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A pictorial journey through humanity's battle against the white plague.

No Mystery About TB Then

There have been epidemics since antiquity of a disease whose symptoms are now known as tuberculosis. Modern science was confounded by the ailment until Robert Koch isolated the tuberculosis bacterium. But healers in the past had no such qualms. Diagnoses proved simple: the plague was caused by bad blood, religious heresy, evil spirits, night air or the devil's brew.

Hans Burgemair (1473-1531), a German wood block artist, depicts a group of doctors using one of the first medical textbooks in which attempts were made to codify symptoms and treatments.

The Hypochondriac's Complaint

Tuberculosis had a strange fascination for many people in the 19th century. It was both feared and revered. Honore Daumier, an illustrator of French nationality, amused the literate throughout Europe with his ascerbic commentaries. In the cartoon reproduced here, Daumier deals with a subject who is obviously not wasting away from consumption.

A Pint of Prevention

When panic spread throughout the United States during the last quarter of the 19th century, many preventive measures became popular, few with any scientific validity. Beef blood soared in demands as a preventive "tonic."

Not only did the practice appeal to frightened individuals seeking preventive measures, but just as captivated were sufferers of the disease who believed in the magic of the potion.

Ironically, because cattle were often victims of the disease (bovine form), those who feasted on the creature's blood became especially vulnerable to infection.

The illustration shown here depicts consumptives buying a drink of blood at the Brighton, Massachusetts abbatoir in a woodcut by E.R. Morse, 1874.

Robert Koch Announces

Discovery of Tubercle Bacillus

Appearing before an international assembly of scientists, the eminent bacteriologist revealed his successful isolation of the germ that caused consumption, now known as tuberculosis.

The event that took place March 24, 1882, did not cause much excitement outside German scientific circles. Perhaps indifference, or skepticism, could be attributed to the continuing resistance to the germ theory of disease that Pasteur had propounded earlier.

The Medicine Man

They traveled the length and breadth of the land, huckstering cure-alls for every conceivable disease known and unknown. Shown above is a typical "medicine man show" that used entertainment to assemble an audience. Cures for the devastation of tuberculosis were glibly promised. Even after the Food and Drug Administration governmental agency was established, many patent medicine salesmen slipped through regulations to sell their wares to the gullible.

The Sanatorium:

A Home Away from Home

Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau turned his own encounter with tuberculosis into a career. The epidemic that raged in 1873 had spread to infect many individuals of the upper economic class, including physicians.

Trudeau arrived at Saranac Lake, New York, in desperation. No cure had yet appeared that held any promise; fresh air, complete rest, and pure food were his only hope because he had no respect for the patent medicines that were being hawked. Inthe wake of Robert Koch's discovery of a tubercular microbe linked to tuberculosis, a flood of spurious remedies poured through the population.

The village of Saranac Lake began to grow just about that time. Cottage were primitive but inexpensive compared with the European institutions that catered to the wealthy afflicted with tuberculosis.

Trudeau responded well to the rarified atmosphere of the area, thrived on fresh food and an abundance of rest. As his condition improved, he volunteered his services freely to help newcomers to the area. Soon Afterward, Trudeau decided to open and operate his own establishment.

With a dedication composed of altruism and sense of responsibility, Trudeau built a complex of cottages that were simple, available to everyone, and priced at what each person could afford to pay.

Trudeau was the first prominent physician in the United States to accept Robert Koch's discovery and to convince both the medical profession and the public of its validity.

Eventually, Trudeau's cottages became one of the first sanatoriums in the nation. His philosophy -- that the patient's stay would be more than abiding in a hospital -- established regimens for pursuing a cure which became the cardinal principles of sanatorium life. the institution became a community that became an extension of the patient's everyday life. All forms of social improvement were entwined with the concepts of health and personal conduct.

Patients were gently indoctrinated with catechisms that warned against unsanitary behavior and that extolled the virtues for fresh air and rest, sleeping with open windows, avoiding intoxicating liquors, and not spitting on the floor.

Curing and caring became the twin pillars of Trudeau's idealistic editifice. The institution flourished until streptomycin was born.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Tuberculosis
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 1991
Previous Article:The disease that built mini-empires - and changed the course of 19th-century society.
Next Article:Vitamin C and tuberculosis; a neglected chapter in anti-bacterial research.

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