Tuberculosis Home > Tuberculosis History

Researchers can trace the history of tuberculosis back thousands of years. Bone remnants dating to 4000 BC show evidence of the disease. During the 17th century, references and descriptions of tuberculosis became prevalent throughout medical literature. Throughout history, developing a cure for tuberculosis has proved to be a difficult task.

An Introduction to the History of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is believed to have been present in humans for thousands of years. Skeletal remains show that prehistoric humans (4000 BC) had tuberculosis, and tubercular decay has been found in the spines of Egyptian mummies (3000-2400 BC).
During the 17th century, exact pathological and anatomical descriptions of tuberculosis began to appear. In 1679, Sylvius wrote his Opera Medica, in which he was the first to identify actual tubercles as a consistent and characteristic change in the lungs and other areas of consumptive patients. The earliest references to the infectious nature of tuberculosis also appeared in 17th century Italian medical literature.
Due to the variety of its symptoms, TB was not identified as a unified disease until the 1820s, and was not named tuberculosis until 1839 by J.L. Schonlein.

Development of Sanatoriums

In 1854, Hermann Brehmer proposed the idea that tuberculosis was indeed a curable disease. The introduction of the sanatorium cure provided the first big step toward treatment for tuberculosis. Brehmer himself was a TB patient. His doctor advised him to move to a healthier climate, so he spent some time in the Himalayas and came home cured. This experience moved him to build the first sanatorium, a place where patients could get plenty of fresh air and good nutrition. This setup became the blueprint for the subsequent development of sanatoriums.
The measures available to doctors at the time were still modest. Improving social and sanitary conditions and ensuring adequate nutrition were all that could be done to strengthen the body's defenses against TB bacteria. Sanatoriums, now found throughout Europe and the United States, provided a dual function: They isolated the sick (the source of infection) from the general population, and they forced the patients to rest (as well as eat healthy foods and live a regimented hospital life), thus assisting the healing process.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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