The concept of 'quarantine' is embedded in health practices, attracting heightened interest during episodes of epidemics. The term is strictly related to plague and dates back to 1377, when the Rector of the seaport of Ragusa (then belonging to the Venetian Republic) officially issued a 30-day isolation period for ships, that became 40 days for land travellers. During the next 100 years similar laws were introduced in Italian and in French ports, and they gradually acquired other connotations with respect to their original implementation. Measures analogous to those employed against the plague have been adopted to fight against the disease termed the Great White Plague, i.e. tuberculosis, and in recent times various countries have set up official entities for the identification and control of infections. Even more recently (2003) the proposal of the constitution of a new European monitoring, regulatory and research institution has been made, since the already available system of surveillance has found an enormous challenge in the global emergency of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In the absence of a targeted vaccine, general preventive interventions have to be relied upon, including high healthcare surveillance and public information. Quarantine has, therefore, had a rebound of celebrity and updated evidence strongly suggests that its basic concept is still fully valid.