Isolation vs Quarantine- Definition, 8 Differences, Examples


  • This century alone, the world has faced localized and disseminated epidemics and pandemics, that have redefined science and the aspects of prevention and control of very infectious and contagious diseases. These characteristic diseases have a high infectivity rate and they spread rapidly, enhanced by human-human contact.
  • Most of these infections are caused by viruses, some that are common and some are emerging and reemerging. For example, the Influenza virus is and has been the most common virus causing global epidemics and pandemics, and in the past 25 years alone we have faced epidemics of Influenza Virus, Ebola Virus, and Coronavirus.
  • These are viruses that are transmitted from animals to humans and somehow they have ‘evolved’ and they can be transmitted from person-to-person. In addition to their transmission factors, they are very contagious, to a point that the World Health Organisation (WHO) put measures of Isolation and Quarantine to curb spread and control infectivity rates. They are otherwise public health measures to stop or prevent or reduce the spread of a contagious disease.
  • And lately, since the occurrence of COVID-19, an infection caused by a beta coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the WHO, the disease has infected 1.5 million people and caused mortality of about 90,000 individuals globally.
  • Travel restrictions have been effected, countries have put lockdown measures on their towns and countries generally and have implemented social distancing, Isolation and quarantine measures as well as are preventive and control mechanisms of reducing the spread and infection transmissions. It is these factors that we have to define and understand Isolation and Quarantine, what their implementation has and will do in controlling these types of viral infection.
  • Both of these practices must be voluntary and/or legally permitted by government authorities for public health concerns before they are implemented on an individual or a group of people.

What is Isolation?

  • The Center for Disease Control, CDC defines Isolation to be a separation of sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. It has been implemented in cases in cases of viral outbreaks that involve contagious disease spread and infection.
  • This measure is taken to curb the spread of disease, within a community or a larger population of people. Isolation measures are implemented to ensure proper treatment is given to the sick individuals, monitoring them closely and they can only be released ones they have fully recovered with no risks of transmitting the diseases.
  • Normally a test is done to ensure the individual is completely free of the disease. However, these persons can still be monitored for a week or two, to ensure they do not re-infect or develop adverse symptoms after discharge from medical facilities. This is a public health precaution especially in severe cases of the spread of an infectious disease.

What is Quarantine?

  • This is the separation and restriction of movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick, according to the CDC.
  • It is an ancient practice that was used even during the time of Jesus, majorly to segregate leprosy persons from other people who did not harbor the disease. The practice was used widely in Europe in the 14th-century to control the spread of the bubonic and pneumonic plague.
  • In some cases quarantining has been associated with crimes whereby criminals/prisoners are kept in separate jail cells from the other prisoners, maybe after engaging in a violent act within the prison.
Isolation vs Quarantine

The Difference between Isolation and Quarantine




DefinitionThis is the separation and restriction of movement of sick individuals who have a contagious disease, to prevent it from being transmitted to others.This is the restriction of movement or the separation of individuals who have been exposed to a contagious disease before it is known whether they will become ill.
LocationIt takes place in a hospital setting but can be done at home or in a special facility like a hospital.It takes place at the home or a specialized facility.
PopulationIt can be applied to larger groups.It can be applied to an individual or a group or a community constituting exposed individuals
SurveillanceTreating sick individuals and track tracing can be used to trace who might have been in contact with the sick person to help prevent the spread of the infection.Contact surveillance is required to monitor individuals if they have developed symptoms of the infectious agent. It can be done passively by advising the individual to visit a medical health worker if they have developed symptoms or actively by phone calling the individuals daily to explain if they have symptoms or by directly accessing them in the facility or at home.
MonitoringMonitoring the symptoms of the sick and treating them.Individuals must be monitored frequently in case they develop symptoms.
DurationIsolation is done until the individuals are fully recovered from the disease.Quarantining is done until individuals elicit symptoms or until they test positive for the disease, where they are then isolated for treatment and monitoring. If they do not elicit symptoms or test positive to diagnostic tests, they can be discharged.
AuthorizationDuring an outbreak, voluntarily (self-isolation) by the help of the public or it can be enforced by the Government authorities who are mandated to implement Isolation measures if there is no cooperation from the public and especially those who are sick, within their borders.During an outbreak, voluntary quarantine by public cooperation. However, the Government and other global authorities are mandated to enforce and implement quarantining measures within their borders if necessary.
Effectiveness and efficiencyIt is highly effective in reducing the cases of spread and transmission.It is effective in curbing the spread of the disease and allows early detection and diagnosis of the disease.

References and Sources

  5. Mayo Clinic News Network (What’s the difference between quarantine and isolation) by Vivien Williams.

2 thoughts on “Isolation vs Quarantine- Definition, 8 Differences, Examples”

  1. The above article should be updated regularly as the figures have drastically grown. To date, 2 individuals have contracted Covid-19 where the second experience was worse than the first in both symptoms and days to recover if ever [to date] 11 06 20


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