Yellow Fever Quarantine

Date: c. 1930
Owner: National Library of Medicine
Source Type: Images


This image shows a room crowded with passengers from Latin America who have been quarantined on suspicion of having yellow fever. Many of them have thermometers in their mouths. Controlling the spread of yellow fever was the primary focus of the International Sanitary Bureau's first director, Walter Wyman. In 1901, Wyman led the initiative to stop yellow fever because it was one of the largest deterrents to increasing trade between the U.S. and Latin America.

At the first meeting of the ISB in Washington, D.C. (1902), the ISB agreed that public sanitation was the most efficacious way to fight yellow fever. This conference was attended by Carlos Finlay, the Cuban doctor who had determined that mosquitoes were the vector of yellow fever. In order to prevent mosquitoes from traveling with shipments of fruit and other goods, Wyman and the ISB began an initiative to clean up port cities and thus eliminate the fetid environments in which mosquitoes thrived. Sanitation efforts soon replaced quarantines, like the one pictured here, as the most effective and common method of preventing the spread of yellow fever.

The ISB had a profound impact on how Latin Americans conceived of health. It made them consider public sanitation to be a governmental duty that had its own intrinsic value outside of facilitating commerce. As early as 1907, the ISB began to conduct mosquito eradication campaigns in areas that had no direct relevance to pan-American commerce and helped Latin American countries develop sanitation and health infrastructures ex nullius.

Reference: Cueto, Marcos. The Value of Health: A History of the Pan-American Health Organization. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2007.
CITATION: Overseas passengers undergo temperature check to guard against yellow fever. United States Public Health Service Photo. United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Order #: A018335.