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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Lessons from the history of quarantine, from plague to pandemic

January 12th, 2015

Those who saw the recent film Contagion -- which was actually fairly accurate compared with cinema’s typical delvings into infectious disease – may recall the chaotic portrayal of mass scenes of quarantine. Long lines of traffic, military checkpoints, separated families – visions of a siege of pestilence that can turn seemingly ordinary people into apocalyptic “preppers.”

In the latest issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the authors of a perspective piece on the history of quarantine, write in part:

“In the new millennium, the centuries-old strategy of quarantine is becoming a powerful component of the public health response to emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. During the 2003 pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the use of quarantine, border controls, contact tracing, and surveillance proved effective in containing the global threat in just over 3 months. For centuries, these practices have been the cornerstone of organized responses to infectious disease outbreaks. However, the use of quarantine and other measures for controlling epidemic diseases has always been controversial because such strategies raise political, ethical, and socioeconomic issues and require a careful balance between public interest and individual rights."