Where does the word quarantine come from?

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It is often assumed that the bubonic plague (black death) spread across Europe because the authorities did not understand the concept of contagion. In fact, it was widely understood that an infected person would pass their disease to others.

What was not known was the precise transmission mechanism. This meant that it was not clear what you needed to do to avoid contagion. It was obvious, however, that the disease was manifesting itself in particular localities. The key to prevention was keeping infected persons out your town, city or community.

Who first used the term?

In the 1340s theVenetian authorities in charge of the port city of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) tried to ensure that infected visitors did not mix with the rest of the population. They introduced a law establishing an isolation period of trentino giorni (30 days) for anyone arriving from an area known to be affected by bubonic plague. This example was then followed by other key ports: including Marseille and Pisa.

Over the next fifty years this  isolation period was extended to quarantino giorni (40 days). Thus the term quarantine spread into other languages and cultures and is now universal today.

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