A Noteworthy Anniversary

One hundred and twenty-seven years ago tomorrow Dr. Robert Koch made a world shaking announcement. He had found the cause of tuberculosis. On that day, 127 years ago, tuberculosis was killing one out of every seven people in Europe and America. Today tuberculosis (TB) still kills. But it kills more selectively. It kills mainly in the third world where it kills several million people annually.


However, from 1985 to 1992 there was a resurgence of TB in the US and many of the new cases were caused by a bacterium that was resistant to multiple drugs. Now, world-wide, there is the emergence of an extraordinarily drug resistant strain of the TB bacteria. It is virtually untreatable. LINK


TB is spread from person to person, most commonly through the air. It affects mainly the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body.


Symptoms of active pulmonary (lung) TB may include:

  • A bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats




Sometimes the TB bacteria are present in someone but the bacteria don’t cause symptoms AND the TB can not be spread to other people. This person will have a skin test that is positive for TB but there will be no evidence of active disease. However, even in this case (called latent TB) treatment is highly advisable. Without treatment to kill the bacteria, you will always be at risk for developing active TB.


The treatment for tuberculosis, both active TB and latent TB, is antibiotics. The antibiotics must be taken daily for at least 6 months. LINK


Tuberculosis was (and, perhaps, still is) known as consumption. In tragic opera it was often the cause of the heroine’s death. TB – consumption – a wasting disease.


If you travel internationally, get tested.


For more information on what to do about TB, see The Stopping TB Partnership.


Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


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