According to my mum, I had a really bad bout of scarlet fever when I was around four years old. From what I am told, I developed strep throat, which led to a rash, which led to a four-year-old kid who was too sick walk into the doctor’s office. After that dramatic visit to the family doctor, I was dosed up on antibiotics and then promptly recovered. Years later, I read the excellent Booky trilogy set in Depression-era Toronto by Bernice Thurman Hunter, and noticed a passing mention of a local family who had been quarantined due to scarlet fever. Drama Queen that I was at 12, I began to fantasize about the seemingly romantic fate of a death sentence due to an illness I had managed to overcome. From that time on, I’ve often taken moments to contemplate the fact that, had I been born earlier, there is a good chance that I might not have lived past the age of four. (more…)
Two important developments occurred during the last half of the nineteenth century. An understanding of the cause and transmission of contagious disease occurred due to research leading to the germ theory. Government assumed increasing responsibility for the protection of the community from contagious diseases with legislation that established provincial and municipal Boards of Health.
Contagious disease has challenged society throughout human history. Quarantine and isolation was practiced in response to the pandemics of bubonic plague and cholera, beginning in the Middle Ages. In the 18th and 19th centuries, smallpox led to smallpox hospitals in some large urban communities. At the same time, citizens lived with the fear of outbreaks of typhus, typhoid fever, diphtheria, scarlet fever and influenza. The effectiveness of isolation was often limited due to the lack of knowledge of the cause and transmission of these infectious diseases.
The germ theory of infectious disease was formulated during the second half of the 19th century. In the absence of specific treatment, isolation became the principle strategy to prevent the transmission of contagious disease. The Ontario Public Health Act in 1884 provided for the expropriation of land for isolation hospitals and required separate facilities for smallpox. Kingston established a Board of Health and created high standards of quarantine with a freestanding isolation hospital and the isolation of contagious disease in the home. (more…)