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Diorama showing a plague scene in 1600s Rome, United Kingdom, 1978-1980

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Based on engravings from 1656, this diorama shows the impact of plague on a city and the measures taken to prevent its spread. At this time there were a number of conflicting theories as to how plague spread. Fires were lit to purify the air as some thought the disease was carried by foul smells caused by rotting waste and human matter. In London, dogs were thought to be the cause of the plague and hundreds were killed. Plague was also believed to be a punishment for sin sent by God and red crosses were painted on the doors of houses where plague victims were quarantined. It was not until the 1890s that plague was found to be caused by a bacteria carried by fleas on rats.

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Glossary: plague

An acute contagious fever with high levels of mortality. Both the 'Black Death' that swept Europe in the 1340s and the Great Plague of London in 1665 are believed to have been bubonic plague.

Glossary: bacteria

Micro-organisms which can cause disease but have an important role in global ecology.

Glossary: diorama

A model with three-dimensional objects, often sculpture, with a realistic painted background.

Glossary: quarantine

A period of isolation that is forced on people to try to halt the spread of disease. Quarantine was one of the few measures available to combat the spread of infectious disease before the development of antibiotics.