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In a world big enough for human civilizations as knowledgeable about medicine as ours to develop without contacting each other, how could they initiate that contact without exposing each other to potentially deadly diseases?

For example, say a contact team from civilization A reaches the borders of a new civilization, B. If I have my facts straight, they could potentially inoculate themselves using the blood of a volunteer from B, but could there be a way for them to interact with regular society without all of Civilisation B getting shots?

Or am I overestimating the danger of this, and the likelihood of the contact team from A being asymptomatic carriers of some disease deadly to B is actually very small?

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    $\begingroup$ Given what smallpox and such did to native american populations, I'd say you are not overestimating the likelihood of disaster. In this case, the plague would be roughly equally bad for both sides. A very interesting take on history: could a dark age be initiated between two industrial societies from different hemispheres from mutual pandemic after first contact? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 12 '17 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ To make this story plausible, you really need to boost your civilizations' knowledge of medicine, while reducing their knowledge of transportation. It is difficult to imagine that 1900-level civilization would not reach every continent on a planet, however big this planet is. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Dec 12 '17 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ A civilization "as knowledgeable about medicine as ours" knows enough about epidemiology to use appropriate quarantine and isolation methods. (Fun fact: did you know that the word quarantine comes from a Venetian word meaning a period of forty days? WP says that back in the 14 century "ships and people had to remain isolated for 40 days before entering the port of Ragusa", in order to make sure they did not carry the plague.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 12 '17 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ 2 very important rules must be followed at all cost: #1. use rubber. #2. never forget rule #1. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 13 '17 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ I like your beginning. "In a world ... youtube.com/watch?v=PjWKE-IJ4R8 $\endgroup$ – roel Dec 13 '17 at 11:01
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Quarantined rendezvous island

The main problem here is that two civilizations are meeting for the first time. Each of them has no knowledge of which diseases they should be afraid of. To solve this problem, these civilizations should designate an isolated area, like an island, where all communication between the parties will take place. This island should be well-staffed by the medics, and quarantined, meaning that sick people are not allowed to leave. Healthy people leaving the island will be under surveillance for a period of time, after which they would be allowed to join back with their respective civilizations.

Without doubts, this rendezvous island will become a place of ravaging epidemics, and some people will die, but the main lands will be protected. Doctors from both worlds can observe the symptoms and suggest optimal cures.

After a while, every dangerous disease will be identified, and adequate amounts of vaccines will be prepared. At that point, rendezvous island can stop being the only point of contact and broader interaction can take place.

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    $\begingroup$ Rendezvous Quarantine Penal Island! That way if people die, well, they're criminals anyway. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Dec 12 '17 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ Sending convicts to interact with the newcomers and see who gets sick is definitely an efficient method. $\endgroup$ – Gattaract Dec 12 '17 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ Quarantined Rendezvous Island. Coming this Thursday on Fox. $\endgroup$ – EightyEighty Dec 13 '17 at 19:40
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In the same way as we currently handle this: through quarantine and sanitation practices.

Back in the colonial and post-colonial era, ships coming from foreign lands had to sit in harbor for a health inspector to check the passengers and crew. If even a single person was found sick, the ship was flagged with the Yellow Jack and everyone on board had to remain in a quarantine hospital until they were cleared as healthy.

Here is a link about one such quarantine in Staten Island.

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    $\begingroup$ My main issue with that is asymptomatic carriers, like Typhoid Mary [quarantined nearby]. Humans carry a lot of bacteria, and our immune systems know what to do with them from long experience. Isn't there a chance that some normally non-pathogenic bacteria, I don't know, say Staphylococcus epidermis, could find the new civ to be prime hosts? $\endgroup$ – Gattaract Dec 12 '17 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ In that case you'd quarantine the people who had contact with the other civ, and see if they get sick in 2 weeks. I'm not a pathologist, so i cant go into much more detail than that, but we still do this today with very contagious diseases (like the Ebola outbreak in Africa) $\endgroup$ – Stephan Dec 12 '17 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Stephan: the bigger question is => would they ever think that the inspector could ever fall sick himself and spread an epidemia? I am afraid this is something that you cannot fathom before it actually happens. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Dec 13 '17 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ It's easy enough to defend against. If the ship is contaminated, he get quarantined as well. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Dec 13 '17 at 13:04
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There exist organizations whose purpose is exactly as you state: protect persons who are visiting an unfamiliar area against diseases in that area.

Travellers medicine clinic can prepare travelers with medicines, vaccinations etc. There are standardized recommendations depending on your pre-existing conditions and where you are going. For example, here the Centers for Disease Control recommends for people with chronic diseases traveling to Bangladesh that they get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis (what is that??) and rabies (noting children might carry rabies!). Also noted is a requirement that certain individuals prove they have been vaccinated against Yellow Fever (so that disease does not get established to Bangladesh) and there are suggestions for avoiding malaria and cholera.

So too your people who go to the new society. They would get appropriate vaccines for that area and counseling about how to minimize the chance for contracting others for which there are not vaccines.


You will not prevent disease by inoculating yourself with blood from an individual you find in the new civilization or anywhere else. You may instead contract the disease or others in short order. Injecting yourself with the blood of a rabid child is a bad idea in at least 2 different ways. Leave those individuals alone. Vaccines are made of crippled up organisms that can barely infect, or antigenic parts of organism. In some cases high doses of immunoglobulin (ok - derived from the blood of immune individuals) might be given to give a temporary immune boost; for example after you have been bitten by a rabid animal. This borrowed immunity is temporary only.

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  • $\begingroup$ If it is the first contact neither of civilisations knows what vaccinations are necessary. $\endgroup$ – Olga Dec 14 '17 at 9:56
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The issue isn't about diseases at all. If the two species evolved separate of each other in different solar systems, let alone galaxies, than the chance of them both having large enough shared DNA (if they both have DNA in the first place) is low enough for us to not care about it all. It's very rare to have a disease from one species jump to another. What I'd consider as the more likely problem to occur would be incompatible environments. Here on earth we have organisms that use H2S instead of H2O, and would get immediately killed by oxygen and vice versa. Same with organisms using silicon instead of carbon. Thus the wise thing for a first contact would be in the space out of the atmosphere, each in their space suits, separated completely. For a second contact, I'd recommend giving the other civilization some lab mice, to see how they'd interact in with a different atmosphere. However, the chance of one civilization being infectious to the other could be considered null.

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    $\begingroup$ The bacteria crawling on the aliens' skin may not be harmful at all to them, but to us it could be deadly. It only matters if a disease could affect one side or the other, not that it has to affect both sides. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Lambert Dec 12 '17 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ All parasites, bacteria and viruses developed to exploit a certain entry point of the target species. Only rare mutations allow diseases to jump from one species to another (such as bird flu, pig flu or HIV jumping from monkeys to humans) As you can see, a disease does not simply jump from organism to organism, but it requires a mutation and even then can jump so somewhat related organisms. This leads me to believe, that diseases wouldn't pose a threat in such a situation. $\endgroup$ – Snooli Dec 12 '17 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ The question is about 2 civilizations on the same world... $\endgroup$ – Slarty Dec 12 '17 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Snooli It doesn't have to be a disease to one side, only the other. Something completely benign to us that exists all over us all the time could be catastrophic to another species. I get what you're saying, but I would personally make a bad diplomat for aliens because I will not want to shake their hands. Or tentacles. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Lambert Dec 13 '17 at 13:36
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Group of volunteers or representatives selected by some other means from both parties would meet in isolated environment (Staten Island will do, but location could preferably be even further from mainland). Both societies know their diseases and biotech experts in pressure suits will accompany. The test period needs to be long enough to detect infectious diseases that manifest symptoms slowly.

Results of the test may be different, not just one single outcome. Harmless skin rash virus from group A causes kidney failure in 10% of people in group B. Deadly antibiotics resistant bacteria from B have no ill effect on A. At the same time, it raises questions why person infected with this bacteria was included in the group in first place. There will be drama. Scientists will develop vaccine for skin rash. Cosmetics company from group A homeland goes bankrupt as everyone has perfect skin now.

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I would imagine if they are industrialized the are both relatively intelligent species. Perhaps one species would use a remotely controlled vehicle, with a display screen of sorts the broadcasts imagery, and sound both ways.After sterilizing it the organisms controlling the R.C. vehicle could send it to the others planet so they could try to safely interact.

Of course they could also meet in some sterilized, quarantine area. Both parties could wear protective suits of some sort.

There are likely hundreds of ways to deal with a situation such as this.

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I'm actually going to suggest the question: Do your societies have plagues in the first place? Here's a link to a video that describes why European colonizers gave native Americans plagues like Smallpox, etc, while the Europeans didn't get any deadly diseases in return. If neither of your civilizations had extremely unhygienic periods (which is entire possible, as the Inca, Maya, and Aztecs all had great, industrialized civilizations without this) then you don't even have to worry! If one of these civilizations does already have plagues, then mostly what other people have answered, quarantine and hopefully, vaccinations for those traveling.

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    $\begingroup$ The Europeans probably got syphilis from the natives. Also, there are many diseases that were still major killers when the hygienic conditions in Europe were already very good, but vaccinations or antibiotics weren't available yet. $\endgroup$ – BlindKungFuMaster Dec 13 '17 at 9:42
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If your civilisations are at the same technological level as developed countries of our time it would be wise to avoid direct contact at first. No travel, no face-to-face meetings, no trade unless goods can be sterilised. You should start with medical knowledge exchange.

Nowadays distant communications are not hard. You can use drones or satellites to establish the contact. Medical information is digitised, so it can be transferred easily without any need for personal contact. DNA samples might be needed in some cases for medical trials. However, preliminary research can be done using digital DNA sequences.

Once both civilisations identify the most potentially harmful pathogens trials can be started. However, since some pathogens are specific to a location a remote island would not be ideal. It might be a better idea to create quarantine areas in medical research centres in the target locations (trade, political meetings, etc.).

I would also assume that we are talking about two civilisations developed by the same species. In this case, medical knowledge exchange will be useful for speeding up treatment development.

In case of interspecies contact, risks of disease outbreaks become very low as pathogens are usually very specific and interspecies infections are extremely rare. However, there is still some risk. So, it would be wise to exchange medical research teams to do surveys of potential pathogens.

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