A Brief History Of Medical Quarantine

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With guest host Jane Clayson.

The history of quarantines, from the Spanish Flu to polio to Ebola and the challenge of fighting an epidemic and fear of the epidemic.

Kaci Hickox (R) speaks with civil rights attorney Norman Siegel from within her mandatory quarantine tent in Newark, NJ. (Steven Hyman)
Kaci Hickox (at right) speaks with civil rights attorney Norman Siegel from within her mandatory quarantine tent in Newark, NJ. (Steven Hyman)

Quarantines –isolating the sick —have a long history, from the bubonic plague to polio.  And now, quarantines are back as governors try to stop Ebola and public panic.  But the first official effort to quarantine a nurse just back from Africa backfired.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started out this past weekend playing it tough.  By the end, he was backpedaling furiously after one angry nurse stood up to his quarantine order.  She had a whole lot of science and the American medical establishment backing her up.  This hour, On Point:  The history of quarantines and the spread of Ebola.
-- Jane Clayson


Noam Levey, national health care reporter for the Los Angeles Times. (@NoamLevey)

Dr. Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. Professor of pediatrics, communicable diseases and health management and policy at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. Author of "Quarantine!" and "When Germs Travel." (@HowardMarkel)

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard University's Global Health Institute. (@ashishkjha)

From The Reading List

Washington Post: A brief history of quarantines in the United States — "Even if a travel ban never happens, the Centers for Disease Control still operates 20 quarantine stations at key ports of entry and land crossings. The facilities deal with travelers who enter the country with communicable diseases — or at least showing signs of such illness."

Los Angeles Times: Disease outbreaks in U.S. have history of government infighting --"The tussle between state and federal authorities over whether to quarantine travelers coming to the U.S. from the West African countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak fits a familiar pattern. Indeed, clashes between federal and local governments over epidemics are a common feature of American history, according to epidemiologists. So too is debate over the proper use of the government’s policing powers to quarantine the sick and those at risk of infection."

NOVA: Typhoid Mary: Villain or Victim? — "To be sure, Mary Mallon was not entirely blameless when she knowingly returned to cooking in 1915, but the blame must be more broadly shared. Much of what Mallon did can be explained by events greater than herself and beyond her control. It is only in the full context of her life and the actions of the health officials and the media that we can understand the personal position of Mary Mallon and people like her—people whom society accuses of endangering the health of others—and can hope to formulate policies that will address their individual needs while still permitting governments to do what they are obligated to do, act to protect the public's health."

This program aired on October 28, 2014.


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