Colloquially known as the “white death,” tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. While it generally affects the lungs, the condition can attack other body parts. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one-quarter of the world’s population is infected by TB. However, only a small portion of those infected become sick with the disease. Here, we discuss more in-depth facts about tuberculosis as humanity continues with its fight.

1. There is a Type of Tuberculosis Infection that Shows No Symptoms

Latent tuberculosis is a TB infection where the patient exhibits no symptoms. It makes up the majority of TB cases, with only about 10% of its infections progressing to active status. Unfortunately, if left untreated, about half of patients with progressed latent tuberculosis die. Latent tuberculosis is not contagious.

2. The Oldest Case of Tuberculosis Was Reported around 17,000 Years Ago

Tuberculosis has been around for the longest time. The oldest unambiguous recorded case of tuberculosis was around 17,000 years ago. Evidence of the disease’s remains was observed on the remains of bison in Wyoming.

3. The Disease Has Killed Some of the World’s Most Influential People

Over time, tuberculosis has killed several influential people. They include John Smith, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Austin, George Orwell, Andrew Jackson, Franza Kafka, Frederic Chopin, and Pocahontas. Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, the man who knew infinity, also succumbed to tuberculosis.

4. Tuberculosis Origin is not Clear

Although the first recorded tuberculosis incident was from a bison, it is not clear whether the animals first had the disease and then transferred it to humans or whether the two got the condition from another common origin.

Initially, researchers believed humans got the disease from bovine when animal domestication became a thing. However, a recent comparison of the genes of M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC) in humans to MTBC in animals revealed there is no possibility that humans got TB from bovines.

5. Tuberculosis Was Once Associated with Vampires

According to a folklore from before the Industrial Revolution, tuberculosis had strong connections to vampires. People believed so because when one family member died of the disease, the remaining infected relatives would lose their health gradually. They were of the opinion that the departed was sucking blood from the remaining family members like vampires do.

6. Franz Kafka Starved to Death Because He Was Suffering from Tuberculosis

Franza Kafka was a novelist and writer famous for realism in his works. He was considered a major figure in the 20th-century literature. Unfortunately, Franza Kafka starved to death because the tuberculosis in his throat couldn’t allow him to eat and swallow food.

7. Tuberculosis Killed George Orwell As Soon As He Finished Writing 1984

George Orwell was a journalist, poet, essayist, novelist, and critic known for his dystopian works of fiction. One of his most outstanding pieces was a dystopian novel and cautionary tale called Nineteen Eighty-Four (also published as 1984).

While the book was a massive success, it was later revealed that the author was painfully dying from tuberculosis when he was writing it. Reports say he died very shortly after handing it to his publisher.

8. Robert Koch Was the First to Identify and Describe the Bacillus Causing Tuberculosis

Robert Hermann Robert Koch, a German physician and microbiologist, was the first to discover the causative agents of tuberculosis in 1882. However, note that some other great people had made several discoveries pertaining to the disease, be it in small portions.

For instance, Richard Morton, an English physician and pathologist, was the first to state that tubercles were always present in the tuberculosis disease of the lungs in 1689. Others who played a significant role in identifying TB complications include Benjamin Marten, Rene Laennec, J.L Schonlein, and Herman Brehmer. In 1905, Robert Koch was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions and discovery.

9.  Tuberculosis Was Vastly Romanticized During the Victorian Era

While tuberculosis was/is feared and greatly stigmatized, it was romanticized during the Victorian era. It was so much so that fashion trends emerged, highlighting and emulating the symptoms of the disease. The fashion movement was dubbed “Consumptive Chic.”

10. A Medical Doctor Once Believed Constant Temperatures and Air Purity Could Cure Tuberculosis

Dr. John Croghan was a medical doctor and enslaver known for helping establish the United States Marine Hospital of Louisville. He lived between 1790 and 1849 when very few people knew much about tuberculosis. On his end, he believed that the disease could be cured by constant temperatures and air purity.

In around 1839, John Croghan took some tuberculosis patients to his Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, where he subjected them to constant temperatures. He also believed the air purity in the cave could help the patients survive. Each died within a year.

11. There Is a Strong Connection between Tuberculosis and HIV

While tuberculosis is a serious health threat, it is more devastating to people living with HIV – TB is the leading cause of death for people living with HIV. Medical experts believe HIV patients are more susceptible to TB because of their body’s low immunity.

12. Tuberculosis Testing Caused the 1931 Iowa Cow War

In 1931, there were ongoing tests in Iowa to see whether the cows in the region had bovine tuberculosis. A radio station spread information saying that the tests gave the cows the disease. Initially, distrustful farmers tried to stop the testing program but failed, so they resorted to war. They claimed that the tests either spread tuberculosis in the animals or caused them to have spontaneous abortions.

13. Doc Holliday Died from Tuberculosis against His Wildest Imagination

John Henry Holliday, famously known as Doc Holliday, was a dentist, gambler, and gunfighter famous for his role in the events surrounding him and his participation in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. While he gained a reputation for killing more than 12 men, it was later ascertained that he killed no more than three.

Doc Holliday was very convinced that he would be killed in a shootout with his boots on. Instead, he died of tuberculosis. While he was lying on his deathbed, he asked a nurse for a shot of whisky, but she refused. Doc Holliday looked down at his bootless feet, said, “This is funny,” and then died.

14. A 27-Year-Old Was Wrongly Diagnosed with Tuberculosis

For six months, a 27-year-old woman was wrongly diagnosed with tuberculosis. She exhibited symptoms such as persistent cough, fever, and sputum. After taking several antibiotics, it was discovered that she had inhaled a condom into her lungs.


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Last Update: May 6, 2024