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In 1793, New York created its first health department in hopes of staving off a yellow fever outbreak that had occurred in Philadelphia. It was too little, too late: Despite the best efforts of early public health officials, a yellow fever epidemic reached the city, killing hundreds of New Yorkers and causing others to flee.

It would not be the last time the city contended with a widespread disease outbreak. “Germ City,” a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, tells the story of the metropolis’s long history with microbes.

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