With all of the news about the corona virus and isolation practices that have occurred on cruise ships and even in some towns and villages, we thought that the origin of the word ‘quarantine’ might be of interest to our readers.
A quarantine is a restriction on the movement of people and goods which is intended to prevent the spread of disease or pests. It is most often used in connection with illness and disease to prevent the movement of those who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, but do not have a confirmed medical diagnosis.
The practice of a quarantine, as we know it, began in Venice during the 14th century, in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. The term used for the isolation was Quaranta Giorni, which in the Venetian dialect, meant forty days. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. From the Venetian description is derived the word quarantine.
Between 1348 and 1359, the Black Death wiped out an estimated 30% of Europe’s population. This disaster led governments to establish measures of containment to handle recurring epidemics. The Venetian forty-day quarantine proved to be an effective formula for handling outbreaks of the plague. Scientists now know that the bubonic plague had a 37-day period from infection to death; therefore, the Venetian quaranta giorni was highly successful in determining the health of crews from potential trading and supply ships and breaking the cycle of the bubonic plague.