Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

A Pictorial Journey through Humanity's Battle against the White Plague

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

A Pictorial Journey through Humanity's Battle against the White Plague

Article excerpt

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. …

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