Tuberculosis is not a disease that we hear much about in modern times. On March 24, 1882, Dr. Robert Koch announced the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB). During this time, TB killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. Dr. Koch’s discovery was the most important step taken toward the control and elimination of this deadly disease. A century later, March 24 was designated World TB Day: a day to educate the public about the impact of TB around the world (CDC 2016).
Tuberculosis was, and still is, a killer disease. Between 1600 and 1800, approximately 25% of the world’s population died from TB. In 2016, the most recent data available, there were 9,272 reported cases of TB disease in the United States.
How Tuberculosis Spreads
Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects your lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes.
Once rare in developed countries, tuberculosis infections began increasing in 1985, partly because of the emergence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens a person’s immune system so it can’t fight the TB germs. In the United States, because of stronger control programs, tuberculosis began to decrease again in 1993, but remains a concern.
Sanitorium – the name itself sounds antiseptic. In order to better manage patients and to reduce spread of the disease, “sanitoriums” or quarantined residences were created to house TB patients. If you were diagnosed with TB during this time, you would be forced into quarantine for months at a time. Mothers left babies. Fathers could not provide for their families. It was traumatic and drastic. We found a diary of a 32-year-old female patient who had to leave her young family and be institutionalized (Hurt 2004). The story is heartbreakingly real. Would modern society allow this kind of infringement on our personal liberties? We think not.
How the United States Works to Prevent TB
Latent TB Infection is when TB is medically tested for and shows up in our body without presenting obvious symptoms. Latent TB occurs in people with compromised immune systems, babies, the elderly and drug abusers (CDC 2016).
“History.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Dec. 2016, www.cdc.gov/tb/worldtbday/history.htm.
Hurt, Raymond. “Tuberculosis Sanatorium Regimen in the 1940s: a Patient’s Personal Diary.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, The Royal Society of Medicine, July 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1079536/.
“TB Prevention.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Mar. 2016, www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/tbprevention.htm.