U.S. Port Health Stations
U.S. Port Health Stations are part of a comprehensive system that serves to limit the introduction and spread of contagious diseases in the United States. They are located at 20 ports of entry and land-border crossings where most international travelers arrive (see map below).
They are staffed with medical and public health officers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and managed by CDC’s Division of Global Migration Health. These health officers decide whether ill persons can enter the United States and what measures should be taken to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.
- Infectious tuberculosis
- Yellow fever
- Viral hemorrhagic fevers
- Severe acute respiratory syndromes
- New types of flu (influenza) that could cause a pandemic
Authority and Scope
CDC has the legal authority to detain any person who may have a contagious disease that is specified by Executive Order to be quarantinable. CDC can also require medical examination and isolation or quarantine for a period of time to prevent the spread of disease.
Medical and public health officers at U.S. Port Health Stations perform these activities:
- Respond to reports of illnesses on airplanes, maritime vessels, and at land-border crossings
- Distribute immunobiologics and investigational drugs
- Plan and prepare for emergency response
- Monitor health and collect any medical information of new immigrants, refugees, asylees, and parolees
- Alert local health departments in the areas where refugees and immigrants resettle about any health issues that need follow up
- Provide travelers with essential health information
- Respond to mass migration emergencies
- Inspect animals, animal products, and human remains that pose a potential threat to human health
- Screen cargo and hand-carried items for potential vectors of human infectious diseases
- Build partnerships for disease surveillance and control
Partners in Protection
CDC relies on an important network of partners who are part of the comprehensive system that supports the public health work of the U.S. Port Health Stations. These partners include the following:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal Plant and Health Inspection Services, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Port officials, airlines, and cruise lines
Emergency Medical Services, local and state public health departments, state public health laboratories, state and territorial epidemiologists, hospitals, and health care providers
Canadian/Mexican border authorities, World Health Organization, Public Health Agency of Canada, overseas panel physicians, International Organization for Migration, and foreign governments
- 1799 The first quarantine station and hospital in America was built in 1799 at the port of Philadelphia after a yellow fever outbreak in 1793.
- 1878 The National Quarantine Act was passed in 1878, shifting quarantine powers from state to federal government.
- 1944 The Public Health Service Act formed the federal government’s quarantine authority in 1944.
- 1967 CDC (National Communicable Disease Center) took over federal quarantine functions in 1967.
- 1970s CDC reduced the number of quarantine stations from 55 to 8 because infectious diseases were thought to be a thing of the past.
- 2004–2007 Number of quarantine stations increased to 20 because of concerns about bioterrorism after World Trade Center attack in 2001 and worldwide spread of disease after SARS outbreak in 2003.
Port health stations previously were known as quarantine stations. The practice of quarantine, which began hundreds of years ago, has evolved over time. Although we honor the history of quarantine and continue to carry out CDC’s public health authorities—including using federal quarantine or isolation, if needed—port health is broader than the name “quarantine” and reflects our goal of keeping travelers and destination communities safe.