Deadly Tuberculosis

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Image Source: knowitall.org

Genealogists and family historians no only need to know how to find and preserve records, expand family trees, and write histories; they need to have a solid sense of history.

What was going on in the world and locally during the life of your ancestors?

Tuberculosis is a disease that has touched many lives throughout history. It is a disease that, today, does not get as much attention as cancer, influenza or casualties of war. Nonetheless, TB was an avid killer up until relatively recently.

In medical arenas, Tuberculosis is called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. However throughout history, consumption, phthisis, and the white plague.

What is TB? According to the CDC:
The bacteria usually attack the lungs. But TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal. TB disease was once the leading cause of death in the United States.
TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
However, not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. People who are infected, but not ill, have what is called latent TB infection. People who have latent TB infection do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms, and cannot spread TB to others. But some people with latent TB infection go on to get TB disease.

It appears that Tuberculosis may have emerged 9,000 years ago in Africa. Trade routes, animals such as goats and cows, seals and sea lions all aided in the spread of the disease.

There are written records all around the ancient world from India, China, and Greece. Even in pre-Columbia America have records of TB written in the DNA of skeletal remains thousands of years old.

Fast forward to 1830. In New York City (population 202,589) alone 16,400 people died in that year alone. 8.1% of New York’s population perished from Tuberculosis.

In 1882 Robert Koch asserted that Tuberculosis is an infection disease meaning that it is transmitted from person to person. Armed with this information sanitariums popped up isolating the infected. Still, they did not have an effective way to combat the disease. One out of seven who contracted TB died.

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Image Source: Blue Ridge Sanatorium

By 1900 Tuberculosis was at a crisis level in Great Britain. So much so that in 1901 a royal commission was formed to study TB transmission between humans and animals.

A hundred years ago Tuberculosis was considered the biggest killer in America. It is estimated that in the United States alone at least 450 people died of Tuberculosis every day. To put that into perspective, that means 164,250 lost their lives every year.

It was only in the 1940s that scientists discovered the first medicines to treat TB. We still use the same medication today. However, since 2000, there is a rise in tuberculosis cases with the disease becoming more resistant to the medicines available.

Unless new treatments are discovered, we could face similar devastating effects of TB as did our grandparents and great-grandparents.

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To Learn More:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Research History

Harvard University Library

Wikipedia

 

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Thank you for reading.

J. R. Findsen

 

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