Many of us in the Baby Boom generation remember stories told by family members who either had tuberculosis (what many called consumption) or knew someone who had it. We have also “met” famous characters who have suffered with the malady – Mimi from La bohème, Edmund from Long Days Journey into Night, even Nicole Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge dies of consumption at the end of the movie, and so many more. Tuberculosis (Consumption) makes for great drama.
I just finished a book, Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles, geared toward 10-14 year old audience that follows Evvy Hoffmeister a 13-year-old sent to Loon Lake Sanatorium to be treated for tuberculosis in 1940. The story follows Evvy her room mates as they deal with the effects of the disease as well as the sometimes barbaric treatments devised to cure TB. It was a fascinating portrait of both the disease and the treatments available during that time period – made all the more interesting by the authors note following the narrative. Did you know that Robert Louis Stevenson’s (Stevenson died from Tuberculosis) character Long John Silver was inspired by Stevenson’s friend Ernest Henley? Henley was a red-headed poet who lost a leg to Tuberculosis.
It’s important to realize that while tuberculosis is the stuff of fictionalized drama it is also a real and present health threat today.
According to the CDC:
“In the early 1900s, TB killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. Starting in the 1940s, scientists discovered the first of several medicines now used to treat TB. As a result, TB slowly began to decrease in the United States. But in the 1970s and early 1980s, the country let its guard down and TB control efforts were neglected. This led to an increase in the number of TB cases between 1985 and 1992. However, with increased funding and attention to the TB problem, there has been a steady decline in the number of persons with TB since 1993.
But TB continues to be a problem. For example, the number of TB cases is still declining, but the speed of decline has slowed since 2003. Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) remains a concern, and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) has become an important issue. And, racial and ethnic minority populations and foreign-born individuals continue to account for a large number of TB cases in the United States.
posted by – Susan, Health Reference Services