Showing posts with label medicine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label medicine. Show all posts

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Humanity Forgetting Terrible Diseases (& History of Tuberculosis)

Sanatorium for Tuberculosis patients

This blog post was inspired by the recent PBS documentary "The Forgotten Plague" (which concentrates on the history of TB, primarily in the United States).

It seems that recently, numerous diseases that we thought were "virtually wiped out", such as the whooping cough, and even polio, have revived in certain areas of the United States. This is primarily due to parents disallowing their children vaccination, and subsequently, protection from these life-threatening diseases.

One opinion of the cause of this is because humans, even within a generation or two, completely forget the horrible history of these terrible sicknesses.

I'd like to focus on one in particular, that was wide-spread and very common up until only the mid-early 1900s: tuberculosis, or "consumption" back when this disease was still common. The reason why it was called "consumption" was because a classic symptom was weight loss.

Although TB was thought to be hereditary, people also thought that fresh air and going outside in the wilderness could help reduce the symptoms. In fact, although there were many other reasons why people went out into the American West, one major cause was the fact that developers advertised how "being in the wilderness" and "going out West" can cure TB.

In 1882, the bacteria that caused TB was discovered, and was named "tuberculosis bacillus" due to its tuber-like shape. So, when people realized that it was not hereditary, and in fact contagious by being in vicinity with a TB-infected person, many special isolated places sprung up to house infected people, and most of these places were in the wilderness.

These places were called "sanatoriums", the first of which was founded by Edward Trudeau, who was also the American to first verify the fact that TB was in fact caused by a bacteria, by taking an excruciatingly long period of time to make the microscope, to adjust the room temperature to be exactly 36-37 degrees celsius for hours (which was extremely difficult back in the early 1900s).

Trudeau's "sanatorium" had grown in popularity in its name, and as a result, many more sprung up, including in Europe as well. All of these sanatoriums tried to mimic how Trudeau ran his sanatorium: patients needed to be in bed all day, eat enough food to be well, and surprisingly, and sitting outside on the porch for hours (even if it was freezing cold outside).


What Trudeau discovered is basically common sense today: that rest and relaxation helps your immune system fight against foreign bacteria.

Eventually, in 1943, the antibiotic streptomycin was discovered by Albert Schatz in order to effectively combat tuberculosis. Schatz painstakingly spent hours and hours getting samples of dirt from outside, and isolate all of the bacteria until he found one that was effective against TB.

And it's 2015 right now, only 72 years later, and most of us have forgotten about this plague - this forgotten plague. In an interview within the documentary with an elderly man who was still alive to tell us his stories about TB, he actually talked about his experiences within the sanatorium, and how his mom, his dad, and most of his relatives died from it. It was one day in 1943 when he was finally told that there was a cure, and lived to tell the tale due to this miracle antibiotic.

Unfortunately for us millenials, there are now many strains of tuberculosis that are resistant to streptomycin, and currently a combination of different antibiotics are used to treat tuberculosis. Perhaps in the near future, there will be even further resistant tuberculosis strains, and I am a bit scared by that, and of any other harmful bacteria that can develop resistance.