Timeline of contact tracing

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Time period Development summary More details
16th century "Physicians such as the celebrated anatomist Gabriele Falloppio, chair of medicine at the University of Padua, the citadel of 16th-century medical learning, sought to understand the origins of syphilis using a different approach to the norm. Instead of just relying on what the ancient and early medieval Arabic medical authorities had to say about diseases, Falloppio and other doctors sought to track the spread of this venereal disease by turning to contemporary histories, most prominently Christopher Columbus’s journals." "Contact tracing was probably more widespread in 16th-century Europe than historians have been able to show, and not only in Italy."[1]
19th century " The American historian William Coleman’s wonderful 1987 book, Yellow Fever in the North, associates “case tracing” with the origins of epidemiology in the mid-19th century."[1] "In the late 19th century, when bacteriology was a new science, a vast workforce of sanitary inspectors was assembled in the United States and especially in the United Kingdom. At the time, the United Kingdom was acknowledged as a leader in the creation of an infectious disease surveillance system of notification, isolation, disinfection, and case finding. "[2]
20th century "Contemporary contact tracing in the United States dates back to the early 20th century response to syphilis and later expanded to include other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)."[3]
21st century
2020 onwards COVID-19 pandemic The COVID pandemic presents a new avenue for surveillance capitalism through electronic contract tracing. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC)[4] develops guidelines for digital contact tracing processes and mobile applications. Apple and Google partner to develop a Privacy-Preserving Contact Tracing[5] statement to provide guidance for individual developers, public health departments, and others who may be utilizing their technologies to create apps and processes for tracing the spread and existence of COVID-19 in communities and regions.

Visual data

Contact tracing wv.jpeg

Full timeline

Year Month and date Event type Details Location
1530 "The ideas behind contact tracing are much older, however. It was anticipated in the early 16th century in relation to the great pox, which would come to be known as syphilis thanks to a poem by the physician Girolamo Fracastoro from 1530."[1]
1530s ". In the 1530s another physician, Bernardino Tomitano, also a chair of medicine at the University of Padua, followed syphilis’s continued spread into eastern Europe, pinning it to Venetian commerce."[1]
1576 "While treating patients on the shores of Lake Garda at Desenzano in northern Italy during the bubonic plague outbreak of 1576, Andrea Gratiolo used contact tracing in a manner we can recognise today. It was employed not to trace the spread of plague as such, but to disprove that it derived from a woman who was rumoured to have carried it to Desenzano from where she lived in Trento. Gratiolo noted that the woman had “taken a small and tightly packed boat with 18 others … sleeping on top one another”."[1]
1840s "French physicians fighting yellow fever in the 1840s focused on finding the first case – what we would now call “patient zero”. Later in the 19th century, they began paying greater attention to connections between households, and people inside and outside of them."[1]
1854–1855 During the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London, Dr. John Snow collects data about the individual cases, especially their location in Soho, using nascent methods of spatial analysis and contact tracing to conclude that contaminated water is the disease vector, and successfully has the source shut off.[6] The map accompanying his 1855 report shows individual cases, stacked at each house location, clearly showing a concentration around the Broad Street Pump as well as gaps in locations that had other water sources.[7] The map would later be hailed as revolutionary, being considered the most effective tool for communicating the spatial patterns of the disease.[8] “Dr. Krueger said the first time contact tracing was used was in 1854 when Dr. John Snow in London, England sought to discover the cause of that era’s dread pandemic – cholera”[9] United Kingdom
1890 “First in Glasgow (1890) and later throughout Scotland (1897), statutory powers were granted for the maintenance of a “reception house” for people who had been in contact with infectious diseases and were living in overcrowded dwellings”[10]
1893 “According to Albert Taylor, whose Sanitary Inspector’s Handbook went through six editions between 1893 and 1924, the sanitary inspector should visit and inspect the home of each infected person, arrange for the patient’s removal, search for possible disease sources, schedule disinfection procedures, and inquire about contacts”[10]
1900–1907 3 “Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary, was a cook in the New York area between 1900 and 1907. During this time, there were isolated outbreaks of typhoid in rich households, which didn’t make much sense as it was known that typhoid was generally passed through unclean environments. A researcher called George Soper eventually discovered that Mary was the link. She was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid; displaying no symptoms of the disease herself, but infecting the households she worked in”[11]
1905 “In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can take steps to protect public health that might otherwise infringe upon the Bill of Rights”[12]
1907 “Contact tracing has served as an essential public health intervention strategy throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In 1907, sanitary engineer George Sober investigated a typhoid outbreak in a wealthy family’s New York summer home. Sober identified peach ice cream as the likely transmitter and then used methodology similar to contact tracing to link the cook’s job history with known typhoid cases”[13]“Contact tracing was used to identify the original Typhoid Mary in 1907, as well as helping to quell outbreaks of smallpox, SARS and Ebola”[14]
1927 "Using mathematical models, we find a number of ways to anticipate what will happen in a pandemic. The most basic approach is the SIR model, originally published in 1927."[15]
1920s "Unlike social distancing, which had not been used on such a wide scope and scale since the influenza pandemic of 1918, contact tracing has been a staple of infectious disease control since the 1920s."[16] United States
1928 Soviet–German Syphilis Expedition
1930s " from the 1930s, contact tracing became one of the primary weapons with which British government sought to contain the incidence of STDs"[17] United Kingdom
1940s "By the time penicillin was developed in the 1940s, the country faced an imperative to “find the missing million” people who were infected and spreading the disease. Health officials would test and treat infected people’s contacts in order to “stamp out VD.” In this context, reporting patients by code instead of by name was no longer conceivable given the scope and scale of the crisis."[16] United States
1950s "In the 1950s, the Pan American Health Organization led the first hemisphere-wide attempt to eradicate the disease. The key to the eradication was a process known as “ring vaccination” which consisted of monitoring smallpox cases in a community and intervening for those who were at risk of infection. The WHO set up an international network of public health professionals who helped countries set up surveillance and containment processes. Thanks to these global and local contact tracing efforts, smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1979."[18]
1960s “In the 1960s, the work of contact tracing fell to staff of what is now called the environmental health department - in those days they were known as health inspectors and, in an emergency, they came under the jurisdiction of the local medical officer of health”[19]
1979 " Thanks to these global and local contact tracing efforts, smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1979."[18]
1987 " The American historian William Coleman’s wonderful 1987 book, Yellow Fever in the North, associates “case tracing” with the origins of epidemiology in the mid-19th century."[1]
2003 8 “ASP Tew, the deputy officer in charge of the Specialised Crime Branch, knew that the police had been involved in contact tracing during the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, and so was prepared to help out this time round”


2007 Concept development The concept of digital contact tracing likely originates in this year.[21][22]
2012 “We searched MEDLINE, SCOPUS, COMPENDEX, Google Scholar and Web of Science databases for studies presenting TB transmission models of human populations with contact tracing as an intervention. We limited our search to relevant English language publications from earliest date to February 2012 inclusive”[23]
2014 May 1 Digital contact tracing proves to be effective in the first empirical investigation using Bluetooth data.[24][25]
2014 "Another example of the successes of contact tracing programs was the 2014 Ebola outbreak. In 2014, the largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history began in Western Africa. Contact tracing was part of a multi-pronged public health response that was successful in containing the spread of the virus after its initial spread. By monitoring contacts of infected individuals and preemptively managing those who had come into contact with the infected, global health agencies successfully eliminated the outbreak in Sierra Leone, the region that had been most affected by the crisis."[18]
2018 A patent application by Facebook discusses a Bluetooth proximity-based trust method.[26]
2019 September 18 "Speeding up detection to slow down Ebola: Smartphone app is game-changer for contact tracing in hotspots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”[27]
2020 April 10 Apple and Google, who account for most of the world's mobile operating systems at the time, announce COVID-19 apps for iOS and Android.[28]
2020 April 20 It is reported that over 300 academics signed a statement favouring decentralised proximity tracing applications over centralized models, given the difficulty in precluding centralised options being used "to enable unwarranted discrimination and surveillance."[29][30] In a centralized model, a central database records the ID codes of meetings between users. In a decentralized model, this information is recorded on individual phones, with the role of the central database being limited to identifying phones by their ID code when an alert needs to be sent.[31]
2020 End of July "By the end of July 2020, more than half a million people had enrolled for a free online Covid-19 contact-tracing course offered by Johns Hopkins"[2]
2020 September 30 Science writer and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci writes a long piece in The Atlantic on the lack of attention by many public health authorities to the index of dispersion of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its implications for contact tracing.[32]
2020 October German virologist Christian Drosten calls on all citizens of Germany to maintain a diary of their close contacts, in order to facilitate backward tracing and thus help contact tracing teams to find disease clusters.[33]
2020 December 3 "Delta partners with CDC for international traveler contact tracing"[34][35]

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See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "Contact tracing: how physicians used it 500 years ago to control the bubonic plague". theconversation.com. Retrieved 5 December 2020. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 ""A Menace to the Public Health" — Contact Tracing and the Limits of Persuasion". nejm.org. Retrieved 5 December 2020. 
  3. "REFLECTIONS ON THE HISTORY OF CONTACT TRACING". oneill.law.georgetown.edu. Retrieved 5 December 2020. 
  4. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Citation/CS1/Suggestions' not found.
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  6. Johnson, Steven (2007). The Ghost Map: The story of London's most terrifying epidemic-- and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world. Riverhead Books. 
  7. Snow, John (1855). On the Mode of Communication of Cholera. John Churchill. 
  8. Rosenberg, Matt. "Map Stops Cholera: John Snow's Map of London." About.com:Geography. N.p., 1 May 2010. http://geography.about.com/cs/medicalgeography/a/cholera.htm. 1 May 2010.
  9. "'Contact tracing' tried and true containing outbreaks | Chickasaw Times". chickasawtimes.net. Retrieved 18 January 2021. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Mooney, Graham (5 November 2020). ""A Menace to the Public Health" — Contact Tracing and the Limits of Persuasion". New England Journal of Medicine. 383 (19): 1806–1808. ISSN 0028-4793. doi:10.1056/NEJMp2021887. Retrieved 18 January 2021. 
  11. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Leevv
  12. "What privacy rights do Americans have during contact tracing?". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved 18 January 2021. 
  13. Bender, Ryan; Fuchs, Ashley. "Would COVID-19 digital contact tracing programs violate the Fourth Amendment?". www.law.upenn.edu. Retrieved 18 January 2021. 
  14. Chiavetta, Ryan. "Google, Apple outline privacy considerations for Exposure Notification System". iapp.org. Retrieved 18 January 2021. 
  15. "EXCLUSIVE: Contact Tracing and the Constitutional Right to Privacy". racmonitor.com. Retrieved 5 December 2020. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Contact tracing's long, turbulent history holds lessons for COVID-19". news.osu.edu. Retrieved 5 December 2020. 
  17. DAVIDSON, ROGER. "'Searching for Mary, Glasgow': Contact Tracing for Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Twentieth-Century Scotland". doi:10.1093/shm/9.2.195. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 "History of Contact Tracing: From the Black Death to COVID-19". carebandremembers.com. Retrieved 5 December 2020. 
  19. "Coronavirus: Contact tracing and lessons from smallpox in 1962". BBC News. 6 June 2020. Retrieved 18 January 2021. 
  20. "Coronavirus: Police helping MOH in contact tracing". The Straits Times. 16 February 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2021. 
  21. Bahri, Shamshul (2007-01-01). "Enhancing quality of data through automated SARS contact tracing method using RFID technology". International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations. 4 (2): 145–162. ISSN 1470-9503. doi:10.1504/IJNVO.2007.013540. 
  22. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Citation/CS1/Suggestions' not found.
  23. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Beguu
  24. Farrahi, Katayoun; Emonet, Rémi; Cebrian, Manuel (2014-05-01). "Epidemic Contact Tracing via Communication Traces". PLOS ONE. 9 (5): e95133. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...995133F. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 4006791Freely accessible. PMID 24787614. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095133. 
  25. "Digital contact tracing might be our best shot". 
  26. "Proximity-based trust". patents.google.com. Retrieved 4 December 2020. 
  27. "Speeding up detection to slow down Ebola: Smartphone app is game-changer for contact tracing in hotspots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo". WHO | Regional Office for Africa. Retrieved 20 January 2021. 
  28. "Apple and Google building coronavirus tracking tech for iOS and Android, coming in May". cnet.com. Retrieved 4 December 2020. 
  29. "Contact Tracing Joint Statement". Retrieved 2020-04-23. 
  30. Hern, Alex (2020-04-20). "Digital contact tracing will fail unless privacy is respected, experts warn". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 4 December 2020. 
  31. "COVID-19". Data notes. Retrieved 4 December 2020. 
  32. "This Overlooked Variable Is the Key to the Pandemic". theatlantic.com. Retrieved 3 December 2020. 
  33. Scharpenberg, Jan (2020-10-13). "Drosten fordert Corona-Tagebuch zur besseren Kontaktnachverfolgung". www.waz.de. Retrieved 4 December 2020. 
  34. "Delta partners with CDC for international traveler contact tracing". usatoday.com. Retrieved 4 December 2020. 
  35. "Delta Partners With CDC To Become First U.S. Airline To Launch Contact Tracing Program". baynews9.com. Retrieved 4 December 2020.