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  Diagnosis of TB


A girl is injected with tuberculin to test for TB infection.

In the late 1800s, when tuberculosis was the number one killer in Canada, it was believed to be an hereditary disease. By the mid-1900s, it was known that tuberculosis is not hereditary and it was then often discovered by x-ray, before its victims realized they were sick. Until the 1940s--when antibiotics became available as a cure for TB—the most important factor in the decline of the disease was early diagnosis. People who had TB would respond to sanatorium treatment much better if their TB was discovered sooner than later, and they could also be separated from the uninfected population to lessen the spread of the disease. In a time when no cure existed for many conditions, the most important aspect in the treatment of any disease was the prevention of the occurrence of that disease, and tuberculosis was no exception.

 Skin Test
 Mass Surveys
 Sputum Test
 Gastric Washing
 Laboratory Tests

A young man is x-rayed for signs of tuberculosis in 1938.

Classical symptoms of tuberculosis included loss of energy, loss of appetite, loss of weight, a cough that persists for an extended period, and pain in the chest. In a time when tuberculosis was the number one killer of human beings, people commonly associated these symptoms with tuberculosis and were to consult their physician immediately.

Once your doctor suspected that you had tuberculosis, there were several steps he took to be sure. First he or she would give a tuberculin skin test to see if you had been previously exposed to the disease. If you reacted positive, then you would have spit in a cup and the doctor would have this "sputum" tested in a lab for the presence of TB bacteria. You might have also had a chest x-ray or a photofluorograph picture taken to look for TB damage in your lungs. As techniques for diagnosis became more refined and more mobile, tb-fighters took to the road, surveying whole populations for tuberculosis infection.