Specific Laws and Regulations Governing the Control of Communicable Diseases
The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has statutory responsibility for preventing the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases in the United States. Under its delegated authority, the Division of Global Migration Health works to fulfill this responsibility through a variety of activities, including
- the operation of Port Health Stations at ports of entry
- establishment of standards for medical examination of persons destined for the United States, and
- administration of interstate and foreign quarantine regulations, which govern the international and interstate movement of persons, animals, and cargo.
The legal foundation for these activities is found in Titles 8 and 42 of the U.S. Code and relevant supporting regulations.
Legal Authorities for Isolation and Quarantine
The federal government derives its authority for isolation and quarantine from the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Read more on the Legal Authorities for Isolation and Quarantine page.
United States Federal Laws and Regulations for Control of Communicable Diseases
United States Code
The United States Code is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. Sections 264-272 of the following portion of the code apply: Title 42 – The Public Health and Welfare, Chapter 6A – Public Health Service, Subchapter II – General Powers and Duties, Part G – Quarantine and Inspection. Links are provided by the Government Printing Office.
- 42 USC Part G – Quarantine and Inspection; Introductory page
- Sec. 264. Regulations to control communicable diseases
- Sec. 265. Suspension of entries and imports from designated places to prevent spread of communicable diseases
- Sec. 266. Special quarantine powers in time of war
- Sec. 267. Port Health Stations, grounds, and anchorages
- Sec. 268. Quarantine duties of consular and other officers
- Sec. 269. Bills of health
- Sec. 270. Quarantine regulations governing civil air navigation and civil aircraft
- Sec. 271. Penalties for violation of quarantine laws
- Sec. 272. Administration of oaths by quarantine officers
Code of Federal Regulations
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the official and complete text of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register. These regulations are established by the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government. The CFR is divided into various titles that represent broad subject areas of Federal regulation. CDC’s regulations fall under Title 42: Public Health, Chapter 1 – Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services.
Links are from the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration on the United States Government Printing Office web site. Specifically, Parts 70 and 71 of the following portion of the CFR apply:
On January 19th, 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the Final Rule titled Final Rule for Control of Communicable Diseases: Interstate and Foreign. This Final Rule enhances HHS/CDC’s ability to prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases into the United States and interstate by clarifying and providing greater transparency regarding its response capabilities and practices. The final rule is published on the Office of the Federal Register’s website. This regulation became effective on March 21st, 2017.
On March 27, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the CDC published a Notice in the Federal Register titled Federal Register Notice: Criteria for Recommending Federal Travel Restrictions for Public Health Purposes, Including for Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers. This Notice was posted to describe the tools the federal government has to ensure that people with serious contagious diseases that pose a public health threat do not board commercial flights or enter into the United States without a public health evaluation. It also lists the criteria that CDC uses in deciding whether to recommend using such tools.
On July 10, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted guidance on the issuance and enforcement of dog confinement agreements. This guidance describes the factors that HHS/CDC will consider in deciding whether to issue a dog confinement agreement or deny entry of a dog being imported into the United States that has not been adequately vaccinated against rabies. Dog confinement agreements are covered under 42 CFR 71.51. This guidance becomes effective on August 11, 2014 (30 days after publication).
For more information regarding regulations governing the importation of NHPs, see Final Rule on Control of Communicable Disease; Foreign-Requirements for Importers of Nonhuman Primates (NHP) and Final Rule on Establishment of User Fees for Filovirus Testing.More
Executive Orders specify the list of diseases for which federal quarantine is authorized, which is required by the Public Health Service Act. On recommendation of the HHS Secretary, the President may amend this list whenever necessary to add new communicable diseases, including emerging diseases that are a threat to public health. The most recent Executive Order added measles to the list of quarantinable communicable diseases.
Executive Order on Adding Measles to the List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases
Executive Order 13295 of April 4, 2003 (Revised List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases), section 1 of Executive Order 13295, as amended by Executive Order 13375 of April 1, 2005 (Amendment to Executive Order 13295 Relating to Certain Influenza Viruses and Quarantinable Communicable Diseases), Executive Order 13674 of July 31, 2014 (Revised List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases), and Executive Order 14047 of September 17, 2021 (Executive Order on Adding Measles to the List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases).
- Additional Public Health Law Resources
- Public Health Emergency Law Online Training
Training to help public health practitioners and emergency management professionals improve their understanding of the role of law in public health emergency response.
- Law and Epidemic Emergency Preparedness (LEEP) Online Training
Self-paced, e-learning course to help public health practitioners, lawyers, and emergency management professionals improve their understanding of the use of law during a large-scale communicable disease response.
- Social Distancing Law Assessment Template
A standardized template for assessing legal authorities, hypothetical scenario and instructions for conducting a Legal Consultation Meeting, and examples of completed documents.
- Public Health Emergency Law Online Training
- For animal importation and quarantine regulations, please see the Laws and Regulations page on the Animal Importation site