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History of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis, or simply TB,  is an infectious disease that normally affects the patient’s lungs. The disease may be very severe and with serious, potentially fatal consequences. Even nowadays, tuberculosis is the major cause of sickness and death in certain parts of the world, especially in Africa and Asia. It is estimated that tuberculosis takes almost 2 million lives each year. The advances of modern medicine have made it possible to successfully treat tuberculosis. It still takes a patient   a couple of months of medical care to recover. However, since the ancient times, tuberculosis has been one of the major health problems.

History of tuberculosis

The first known evidence of tuberculosis dates over 18.000 years. It is now obvious that humans knew about tuberculosis for a long time but these earliest traces of tuberculosis were found not in the human remains, but in the remains of bison. Skeletal remains, dating from 7000 BC, found in a Neolithic settlement in the Eastern Mediterranean, indicate the presence of tuberculosis disease in humans. The evidence is also found in the spines of mummies from 3000–2400 BC. The ancient Greeks were also acquainted with the disease, and even Hippocrates wrote about it as the most widespread disease of that time. In the New world, the first evidence of tuberculosis was found in Paracas-Caverna culture (circa 750 BC to circa 100 AD).

Tuberculosis in the past was known as the “consumption”. Even the ancient Greek word “phthisis” refers to the malignant character of the disease, which seems like it is consuming the infected people from within, leading to a long and persistent wasting.
People and families affected with tuberculosis were often stigmatized, and tuberculosis was compared to vampirism. Usually, when the disease occurred in the family, the other members would quickly get infected and gradually start losing their health. People actually thought that the carrier of the disease slowly drains life from other victims, like a vampire. Another popular belief suggested that the sick people are being forced nightly to attend fairy revels, or that they are being transformed into horses by witches to travel to their nightly meetings. As a result, infected people were  suffering from a lack of rest, and slowly wasting.

Causes of tuberculosis

Today, we know that Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a small aerobic non-motile bacillus, causes tuberculosis disease. The bacterium is spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air. In the early 20th century, people believed tuberculosis to be caused by masturbation. The study of tuberculosis, however, reveals that in the past a major purveyor of the disease was milk. Pasteurization, discovered in 1870, made it possible to lessen the risk of tuberculosis.

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