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  Human Impact of Tuberculosis

 Early History

"Consumption" and "Phthisis" were terms historically used to describe tuberculosis. Because of its infectious nature and usually long chronic course, tuberculosis had a great impact on the health and lives of many families, both rich and poor, and was the cause of death for many. Until the 1800s, no treatment for tuberculosis existed. Families and their doctors could only watch a patientís downward path to death, helplessly, and other family members and friends frequently became infected themselves and followed the same path to the grave.

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Several reports exist of ancient Egyptian mummies having signs of tubercular decay in their skull and spinal bones, so we suspect that TB has been plaguing humans for more than 4000 years. More than 2400 years ago, Hippocrates wrote that pthisis was the most common disease of humans, and he further noted that it was nearly always fatal. Researchers from Munich, Germany reported in 1997 that they had isolated the tuberculosis bacteria from an Egyptian mummy dated between 1550 and 1080 BC. They first noticed traces of TB in the mummies right lung, and then used sophisticated DNA testing to verify the presence of the tuberculosis bacilli.

It wasnít until the late 17th century that tuberculosis was known to be an infectious disease. At this time, the Republic of Lucca in Italy issued a decree that:

"henceforth, human health should no longer be endangered by objects remaining after the death of a consumptive. The names of the deceased should be reported to the authorities, and measures undertaken for disinfection."

Thus, the bodies and property of those dying from tuberculosis were burned immediately. At the time of this edict in 1699, nearly everyone in Europe was infected with TB and one in four deaths was attributable to TB. While many "quack" cures and traditional remedies were available for TB sufferers by this time, there was still no successful treatment known for tuberculosis.