Over the history of humankind, diseases and infections have always been a problem. From infections from minor cuts and scrapes, to communicable diseases such as the flu, Ebola, and others, infections have killed millions of people and disabled thousands of others over time. Smallpox dates back to the 12th century B.C., the Plague killed 25 million across Asia, Europe, Africa and Arabia in the 6th century, and the Black Death, also known as the Black Plague or Plague, wiped of 60 percent of Europe’s population in the 14th century. The discovery of how bacteria and viruses work led to increases in hygiene and the development of antibiotics and various treatments for diseases, and vaccinations for prevention. Vaccinations are responsible for eradicating many diseases in many countries; in 2000, measles was considered eradicated in the United States.
Before that, quarantines were standard practice, dating back to the 14th century. Quarantines are particularly helpful with communicable diseases that spread rapidly via coughing, sneezing, or even brief physical contact. Ships arriving in Venetian ports from infected cities were required to sit at anchor for forty days before coming to shore in order to prevent the spread of such diseases. In early American history, little was done until continued outbreaks of yellow fever prompted Congress to pass federal quarantine laws in 1878. During the Spanish flu epidemic various cities and states took different stances. Those that quarantined saved many. The health commissioner in St. Louis ordered closings of schools, theaters, pool halls, and other public places, and then churches and taverns were added, and attendance at funerals was restricted. Streetcars no longer allowed standing passengers; if all seats were full then no one else was allowed on. These precautions allowed St. Louis to have one of the lowest death rates among American cities from the 1918-1919 flu. Theaters in Chicago posted signs telling people that if they had a cold and were coughing and sneezing they were to go home and go to bed until well.
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