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Medical News & Perspectives
October 1, 2003

SARS Thrusts Quarantine Into the Limelight

JAMA. 2003;290(13):1696-1698. doi:10.1001/jama.290.13.1696

Quarantine has been around since the 14th century when officials in Venice, Italy, forced arriving ships to sit anchor for 40 days before landing to protect locals from plague. Last spring, seven centuries later, the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) forced public health officials around the world to implement or consider quarantine (the term was derived from the Latin word quaresma, meaning 40), a time-honored but controversial prevention tool.

Thousands were placed under quarantine in China, Hong Kong, and Canada. President George W. Bush issued an executive order on April 10 adding SARS to the list of communicable diseases for which public health officials could use quarantine, although the measure was not invoked for the 33 people in the United States who were diagnosed as having SARS.