Discovery Set: The White Plague: Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Commonly called “TB,” tuberculosis spreads through tiny droplets that are released when an infected person coughs and sneezes. The disease is thought to be responsible for more deaths than any other microbial pathogen.

Tuberculosis has been known by many names throughout history, such as “phthisis” and “consumption.” During the 19th century people referred to tuberculosis as “the white death” and “the great white plague.” The disease came to be associated with artists in the popular imagination, and was romanticized for its suffering, which was claimed to bestow heightened sensitivity and spiritual purity. 

Poor-sanitation and dense living-conditions associated with poverty contribute to the spread of tuberculosis. Prevention and treatment efforts have at times involved public health education, housing reform, medical advancements, and various forms of legislation. Despite the availability of a vaccine, tuberculosis remains one of the world’s most deadly diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one third of the world’s population is infected with TB. 

For further reading: 

Tuberculosis, Social Welfare History Project

Tuberculosis, Social Welfare History Image Portal 

Goodbye, Mr. Germ (1940). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Sponsor: National Tuberculosis Association. 

American Lung Association anti-spitting campaign and Modern Health Crusade. Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia.  

Discovery Set: The White Plague: Tuberculosis