For the health humanities, contagion arrives as a term already contested. Contagion first appears as the Latin contagio or contagium, meaning “to touch together.” As a loose theory of transformational, contaminating contact, contagion has a long history of use beyond communicable disease. From about the second century BCE, these terms, along with inficere and infecto, were used across the Mediterranean to refer to a variety of phenomena that could be negative or positive; religious or folk; inter-, intra-, or extrahuman (Nutton 2000; Pelling 2001). These included the practices of animal husbandry, winemaking, and dyeing; the communication of corrupt morals; and the progress of certain diseases. Contagion more narrowly defined as a specific kind of communicable disease is more recent, at least in the West. The Oxford English Dictionary dates contagion as “The communication of disease from body to body by contact direct or mediate” to the early sixteenth century. This belated sense of contagion as communicable disease reflects changing conceptions of disease pathology in medieval and early modern Europe. While the Black Death (Yersinia pestis) decimated much of Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it was only during the sixteenth century that...

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