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What Is a Preventorium?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2014
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A preventorium is a facility once used to isolate people with communicable diseases, notably tuberculosis, in an effort to prevent infections among the general public. Such facilities were popular in the early 20th century in several nations, enjoying support from governments worried about the spread of infectious disease. They were later shut down in response to social and ethical concerns, and also because of the development of more effective treatments for disease that made them unnecessary. Some are maintained as historic sites, and it is possible to access their records for research purposes.

Tuberculosis was the primary concern with preventoria and the closely related sanatoria that started arising in the late 19th century to control the spread of this highly infectious respiratory infection. The preventorium was designated as a space to isolate patients who had been exposed and had infections, but weren’t manifesting active symptoms. Children were often sent to such facilities; isolating them was intended to protect the public and keep patients safe from those with active symptoms.

At the facility, patients were provided with medical care and entertainment. A preventorium could be located in a remote location for additional protection, which provided the advantage of fresh air and spacious grounds for residents. Young patients might be given opportunities for education including classes to keep up with schoolwork and develop skills. As they improved, they could be discharged, but if they developed active infections, they could be sent to a sanatorium.

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The idea of isolating sick people was hardly new, but the preventorium created a more organized structure for identifying and preventing disease. These facilities were often supported by governments and public health agencies concerned about how to control infectious diseases, especially in crowded environments like cities. Medical providers felt they offered advantages for patient treatment, ranging from getting patients out of unhealthy environments to providing a space to isolate the sick to avoid spreading disease.

Some facilities still have the name “preventorium” in their name and may focus on the early diagnosis and management of disease. Cancers, for example, respond to treatment much better when they are caught early. A cancer preventorium can offer early screening and diagnosis as well as genetic testing to assess patients for cancer risks. This offers opportunities for rapid and early treatment to limit the damage caused by cancer and increase the chance of surviving without long-term complications. Patients are not isolated in such facilities although they may be hospitalized for some types of inpatient care.

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