The presence of contagion

Disease can enter a country in many ways. According to scholars, the 1675-76 plague on the small Mediterranean island of Malta arrived on a ship carrying textiles: The first victims were in the home of a merchant who had received a consignment of cloth from the vessel. An inability to recognize its presence hampered early action to contain it. Efforts to mitigate its spread were varied and included posting knights in urban centers to control people’s movements and tacking notices of contagion at entry points to towns and cities. The cost of hesitation was high. By the time the last pestilence-related death occurred in the early fall of 1676, some 11,300 of an estimated 60,000 islanders had perished.

Image: Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine