The idea of managing lethal epidemics by imposing a quarantine flourished in Italy in the fourteenth century. In their efforts to control the plague, Italian towns regularly put blocks on trade particularly maritime traffic from affected areas.
This seemed sensible and may have worked to some extent. But if you don’t know what is in fact going on it, it is rarely particularly successful. Quarantine didn’t stop the plague and was bad for business. There was a permanent tension between the authorities who had to be seen to do something and people on the ground who had to go on living. And it was almost always the case that improving the living conditions of the poor looked even then as more likely to save lives than quarantine would.
In January 1649, Charles I of England, after a decade of Civil War was executed. His decapitation was/is seen as the culmination of a Civil War with the opposing sides divided by religious belief. Religion was certainly a factor but it was late into the frame.
The original divide between Charles and the English Parliament arose over the question of quarantining the City of London in the face of an oncoming plaque. Charles wanted to impose a quarantine. London, the biggest trading center in the world, objected. This was the point at which the slide into Civil War began.
By 1800, the plague was on the retreat for reasons that are not clear but it was replaced by cholera. Cholera struck European and North American cities at regular intervals causing panic from 1830 through to the end of the century. In New York, in 1832, the authorities wanted to impose a quarantine in the face of a likely arrival of cholera on ships but business objected and it never happened.
Thirty years later with no-one any the wiser as to what caused cholera it began to pop up all over America, in locations over a thousand miles apart with no-one able to explain how or why. A plague had never travelled by train before.
With the development of antibiotics, it looked like we had achieved mastery over epidemic infections until we were faced with AIDS in the 1980s. Just before AIDS appeared, perhaps adding to the panic, the first outbreak of Ebola was reported from the Congo. AIDS also looked like it might have also come from African jungles. Were we facing a new wave of epidemics?
Books like The Outbreak and movies like The Hot Zone, which feature quarantines and the possibility of those breaching the cordon sanitaire being shot, generated perceptions that modern interconnected living might lead to global epidemics. For trains read planes.
A range of different interests jumped on board and stoked Epidemic Fear with alarms about Swine Flu, Avian Flu, and SARs (non)-Epidemics – for pigeons read Internet – caught in blockbuster movies like Contagion.
Real life caught up with fiction in West Africa in 2014 when Ebola struck. A wonderful book Getting to Zero covers the chaos and infighting between organizations from the developed world that descended on Sierra Leone and likely contributed to thousands of unnecessary deaths.
The authors Sinead Walsh and Oliver Johnson detail the debates about quarantine on the ground in badly affected areas where it might have really counted. They figure that when and where quarantine was put in place was on balance unhelpful. It was particularly unhelpful when the international community succumbing to mass hysteria all but quarantined Liberia and Sierra Leone by banning flights.
The New Hot
When it comes to real infections, quarantine is almost a thing of the past. Isolation yes, contact tracing yes, but quarantining entire communities no.
But just as quarantine fades in one sphere, it has become big business in another, promoted ironically by big business. It now applies and is applied in spades to anyone who claims to have an adverse effect from a drug or a vaccine.
The HPV quarantine is the latest instalment and a great example of how the powers that be go about putting a quarantine in place. The strategies include:
- not collecting the data on adverse events in trials or in registries afterwards
- sequestering the clinical trial data so that it cannot be analyzed by any one
- ghostwriting the data from trials to ensure there are no hints of safety problems in any articles
- on the basis of missing data and ghostwritten articles, branding anyone suffering from adverse effects – in the case of HPV vaccine as hysterical girls – but more generally as batty.
- mobilising the powers that be to quarantine and declare as irresponsible any doctor or scientist who says we should pay heed to people who are reporting problems AFTER a vaccine or drug
- instituting programs to make vaccines mandatory and in some cases drugs effectively mandatory
- setting up research programs to understand and combat vaccine hesitancy
- deliberately conflating any questions about adverse effects AFTER a treatment with PRIOR hostility to a treatment – when almost by definition if you’ve had the treatment you weren’t hostile
- branding all questioning of vaccines or drugs as a case of anti-vax or anti-drug ideologies and lumping it with climate change denialism
This kind of quarantine is good for business. Unlike classic quarantine, it is difficult to see who has the muscle to disrupt it. We are not far off the point where someone breaking a quarantine runs a real risk of being shot. Doctors, for instance, can be struck off which is effectively professional death. This is enough to encourage most of them facing teenage girls suffering from a range of novel difficulties which may be auto-immune to view these girls or their mothers as hysterical – even though there is a growing string of vaccines now reliably linked to auto-immune and other phenomena from Pandemrix to the shingles vaccine, the recent dengue fever vaccine and others.
These quarantines create a hostile environment and are causing immense damage to the climate of healthcare but those in favor of quarantine are climate change denialists and among their number are some of the most powerful corporations on the planet.
If anyone reading this can draw cartoons or is adept with Clip Art it would be great to get some cartoons/images on the lines of the two used here where an official message is translated into something edgier and more relevant for the healthcare jungle we are facing into.