The Historical Evolution of Some Intrinsic Dimensions of Quarantine

Andrea Conti, Gian Franco Gensini


The word Quarantine makes its first recorded appearance in the English language in the seventeenth century. It was originally a thirty-toforty day period in which subjects suspected of carrying a contagious disease were subjected to detention and segregation with selective restraint regulations regarding circulation. Five dimensions are implicit in this original use of the term: time, disease, context, restraint and segregation. These dimensions have undergone modification through time, and more recently the term has come to indicate a more variable time period, adopted with reference to the compulsory physical separation not only of groups of human beings potentially exposed to contagious disease, but also of animals, goods and various means of transportation. Currently, new pathologies such as SARS and avian influenza must also be considered, and the context dimension has become much more various than in the past, while the restraint dimension is now connected with personal liberty and autonomy and not only with medicalhealth risks. Finally, the original palliative, rather than curative, segregation dimension has left space to specialised therapeutic quarantine units, in this way completing the medical and figurative evolution of the concept of quarantine through time.


Key words: Quarantine - History of medicine - Health care - Epistemology

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