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HEALTH REPORT - May 21, 2003: Quarantine - 2003-05-20

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Quarantine is the restriction of movement in an effort to stop the spread of infection. It is one of the weapons being used against severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Quarantine has a long history. It began in the fourteenth century as a way to protect against diseases that sailors could spread as they traveled the world.

Ships that arrived in Venice, Italy, from areas infected with bubonic plague had to stay outside the port for forty days. This separation was called quarantine, from a word in Latin that means forty.

Officials in France and Italy at that time also created a system that separated the general population from people thought to be infected. European officials used quarantines to stop the spread of tuberculosis and cholera in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Victims were taken to special hospitals built outside cities.

American officials have also used quarantines. One example was in eighteen-ninety-three when smallpox infected many people in the city of Muncie, Indiana. Armed guards stood outside quarantine areas. No one was permitted to leave or enter. Violators were jailed. Another example was exiling people with leprosy to the Hawaiian island of Molokai. About eight-thousand people were sent there until legislation banned this kind of separation in nineteen-sixty-nine.

The power to quarantine an area in the United States was left to local officials until the late eighteen-hundreds. The federal government became involved when cholera and yellow fever struck large numbers of people. Congress approved the first Federal Quarantine Legislation in eighteen-seventy-eight.

Today, the responsibility for establishing quarantines is held by a government agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States Public Health Service has the power to examine people or animals suspected of carrying diseases that can be spread to others. Last month President Bush added to the list of diseases that could result in quarantines. The diseases on the list include cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola -- and, now, SARS.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.