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The History of Tuberculosis Treatment

Although the development of sanatoriums helped in providing a haven for those healing from tuberculosis, scientists and doctors continued their research in the hopes of finding a real cure for the disease. Several methods of tuberculosis treatment were discovered, including:
  • Artificial pneumothorax
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy.
Artificial Pneumothorax
Forlanini, an Italian physician, discovered that lung collapse had a positive effect on the outcome of the disease. With the introduction of artificial pneumothorax and surgical methods to reduce the lung volume, active therapy for tuberculosis began. Although this was an accomplished technique, it was discontinued after 1946 because it proved little benefit.
A further significant advance came in 1895 when Wilhelm Konrad von Roentgen discovered the radiation that bears his name. With this discovery, it was now possible to follow and accurately review the progress and severity of a patient's disease.
In the middle of World War II, another breakthrough was discovered -- chemotherapy. Administering chemotherapy to other infectious disease, using sulfonamide and penicillin, had already been underway for several years. However, these molecules turned out to be ineffective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Antibiotics as Tuberculosis Treatment

In 1943, Selman A. Waksman, who had been working for decades to find an antibiotic that was effective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, was finally successful. Streptomycin purified from Streptomyces griseus was first administered to a human on November 20, 1944. The results were extremely impressive. The disease immediately stopped its progression, the bacteria disappeared from the patient's sputum, and he recovered fully.
A rapid succession of anti-TB drugs appeared in the following years. This was very important because with the streptomycin treatment, resistant mutants began appearing within a few months, endangering the success of antibiotic therapy. However, it was soon proven that using a combination of drugs would solve this problem.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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