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North Carolina Doctor In Voluntary Quarantine After Returning From Liberian Aid Mission

A picture of George Poehlman and other aid workers
Dr. George Poehlman

Doctor George Poehlman recently returned from an eight-week aid mission in Liberia.  Upon his return, the retired Durham, N.C. family physician put himself in voluntary quarantine at a time when some other doctors around the country have refused such quarantine, noting that it's not necessary.

The  New England Journal of Medicine argued vociferously against the decision of some states to quarantine Ebola healthcare workers upon their return to the U.S., describing the quarantines as unfair, unwise and "more destructive than beneficial." A Maine nurse moved out of her home state when she was forced to comply with quarantine.

So why self-quarantine?

"I think there is still a public perception out there that anybody who's been to West Africa has Ebola and is going to spread it," said Poehlman, so he volunteered to allay community fears.

Part of the quarantine is also self-preservation. Poehlman notes that it is flu season. If he developed a fever due to the flu, he would be quarantined for days in a hospital while Ebola is ruled out.

So for now, he takes his temperature twice a day in the comfort of his home and reports the results to the proper authorities.

A picture of George Poehlman in protective gear.
Credit George Poehlman
Dr. Poehlman wore personal protective gear when working with people who might have been infected with the Ebola virus.

Experience needed

Poehlman went to Liberia to help open an Ebola Treatment Unit.

"I have experience living and working in Africa, some experience with tropical medicine, and an understanding the culture and the people is critical in the work against Ebola," he says.

The spread of the virus in Liberia does appear to be slowing. Some media outlets report Liberia is poised to re-open its schools after the epidemic forced them shut six months ago.  

Poehlman notes that people now regularly wash their hands in chlorine solution, for example, and they have their temperatures taken outside of stores.

But the biggest change he saw in-country is how bodies are buried.

"The tradition in Liberia is that the family would wash and clean the body of the deceased and kiss them goodbye before the burial." That practice is over, and specially trained teams now contain and bury bodies.

This is the new Ebola Treatment Unit that Dr. Poehlman and others built in Liberia.
Credit Dr. George Poehler
This is the new Ebola Treatment Unit that Dr. Poehlman and others built in Liberia.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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