A Brief History Of Medical Quarantine

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.”



Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
May 25, 2016
This April 29, 2014, file photo, shows an Exxon sign at a Exxon gas station in Carnegie, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

How will the oil giants do business in the climate change future? Shareholders at Exxon, Chevron and more want to hear their plans. So do we.

May 25, 2016
Police gather in a cordoned off area where a possible murder suspect fired shots at officers surrounding a South Side home where he is barricaded Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Predictive policing. With violence on the rise, Chicago has turned to big data to predict gun and gang violence.

May 24, 2016
Activist and author Gloria Steinem. (Carly Romeo / Courtesy Gloria Steinem)

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem explores how violence against women drives global instability in her new show, “Woman.” She’s with us.

May 24, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Vietnamese Communist party secretary general Nguyen Phu Trong at the Central Office of the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, May 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Obama’s in Vietnam and Japan. The G7, Hiroshima and his pivot to Asia are all on the table. We look at the big picture. Plus, President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Gloria Steinem Explains Her ‘Bernie Boys’ Comment
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem explains why her apparent diss of female supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders was anything but.

More »
‘Best Of’ 2016 Commencement Speeches
Monday, May 16, 2016

Excerpts from a few of the best commencement speeches delivered to the graduating class of 2016.

More »
Caller: Trump is a ‘Yankee moron,’ but I support him
Tuesday, May 10, 2016

“I’m a working man. I’ve worked 13, 14 hours every day. I got two jobs. I got three kids. I got a wife. You know, I’m not a misogynist.”

More »