TRENTON (CN) - The Maine nurse who last year was quarantined while being monitored for the deadly Ebola virus sued Gov. Chris Christie, alleging false imprisonment and violation of her due process rights.
After Kaci Hickox spent a month in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola patients, she was quarantined for more than three days upon her return to the United States after her temperature fluctuated, one of the symptoms of the virus.
In October 2014, she was allowed to leave quarantine after a federal judge in Maine declared that she was not infectious.
Before her court-ordered release, Christie told reporters that Hickox was "obviously ill" and that "we're doing exactly the right thing" by quarantining her. Some commentators had called her selfish and polls of New Jersey residents overwhelmingly supported her quarantine
At the time, an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa had killed more than 11,000 people and reportedly infected nearly three times as many. Two cases of Ebola in the United States were reported around the time of Hickox's quarantine, one of which resulted in a Liberian man's death.
In a complaint filed in the Neward Federal Court on Thursday, Hickox and the American Civil Liberties Union, allege she was "unlawfully and unreasonably detained ... without valid medical or epidemiological basis," and that Christie and New Jersey health officials "demonstrated a callous indifference to and willful disregard of [her] federal and statutory rights."
New Jersey's former health department commissioner, Mary O'Dowd, and two other state health officials were also named as defendants in the suit. Hickox seeks $250,000 in damages.
Ebola is spread through body fluid transfer or exposure to contaminated objects. Hickox claimed she had not had any exposure to the virus, such as mistaken prick from a needle, and that she had worn protective clothing and face masks during her work with patients in Sierra Leone.
Hickox describes her ordeal as harrowing and frustrating as soon as she landed in Newark Liberty International Airport after working in Sierra Leone.
She contends that upon her arrival in Newark her temperature with an inaccurate temporal scanner, which showed she had a fever. Later, when she was taken to University Hospital in Newark for further screening using an oral thermometer, her temperature registered normal at 99.1 degrees. Her temperature was again taken with both a temporal thermometer, which showed a fever of 100.5 degrees, and an oral thermometer, which registered 98.1 degrees.
Oral thermometers are generally considered by physicians to be more accurate than temporal thermometers, which are swiped across a person's brow. Hickox alleges New Jersey CDS Medical Director Ed Lifshitz told her oral readings were more reliable and considered the "gold standard" in the medical industry.
Hickox tested negative for Ebola, but a state epidemiologist told officials in an email that she should be "kept in isolation and observe[d] for 72 hours." Another lab result from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta later confirmed Hickox did not have Ebola.
During her time in quarantine, Hickox claims she was mistreated. The isolation tent in which she was kept was cold and bare and located in a parking garage, she claims, and she was never told why she was being held despite being asymptomatic of Ebola. "[She] requested to take a shower and was brought water for a sponge bath. When she requested clean clothes to change into, she was given only thin paper scrubs," the lawsuit states.
Three days after being placed in quarantine, Hickox claims hospital staff entered the isolation tent and shook her hand without protective gear, then said she would be released. Later that day she was discharged and driven to her home in Maine.
In a statement, Hickox, who has not been out of the country since working in Sierra Leone, said "My liberty, my interests and consequently my civil rights were ignored because some ambitious governors saw an opportunity to use an age-old political tactic: fear."
Christie's office has declined to comment on the lawsuit. Last year, after being told Hickox planned to sue, Christie reportedly said: "I've been sued lots of times before. Get in line."
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