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Tuberculosis: What is it?

Tuberculosis: What is it?

Timeline & Historical Impact

Tuberculosis, a dreaded disease, which has been known to mankind since ancient times, gained its fame as one of the deadliest disease humanity could encounter. Nicknamed the “king’s evil” during the Middle Ages, the horrifying disease reached its peak with a prevalence as high as 900 deaths per 100,000.

It was commonly called as “consumption” at the turn of the 19th century because of how it “consumed” the infected individual by gradually “eating” away the person’s weight and turning them as white as snow. The term White plague was coined because of tuberculosis.

Millions of victims have fallen claim to tuberculosis. It reached epidemic proportions in Europe and North America during the 18th and 19th centuries, which earned it the moniker, “Captain Among these Men of Death.” Thankfully, from then on, tuberculosis began to decline.

Bacterial Cause & Manner of Transmission The organism which causes tuberculosis, named Mycobacterium tuberculosis, existed 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. Its existence was confirmed by Robert Koch in 1882, who later won the Nobel Prize.

Traces of the bacteria have been found in relics from ancient Egypt, India, and China. Often known as Pott’s disease, archeologists detected the disease among Egyptian mummies with spinal tuberculosis. During the Middle ages, it was termed as “scrofula” which evinced as tuberculosis of the cervical lymph nodes or lymph nodes of the neck. The bacteria usually spreads through the air.

Tuberculosis Overview


Your body might be hosting the tuberculosis bacteria, however, your immune system is usually strong enough to prevent you from becoming sick. For this reason, there are 2 types of TB.

  • Latent TB. The bacteria is within your body but it is in an inactive state and cause no symptoms. Also known as inactive TB or TB infection. Latent TB isn’t contagious.
  • Active TB. This condition makes you sick and is contagious. Symptoms can occur within the first few weeks are it might occur years later.


  • Coughing that lasts two weeks or more Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite


Tuberculosis prevention is two-fold. The first effort of prevention is against the transmission of tuberculosis from one adult to another. This type of prevention takes place firstly by identifying people infected with TB, and then curing them by drug treatment. The second effort is preventing people with latent TB from developing active TB or infectious TB by continuous medication.

Because of TB’s age-old existence, counter-measures have been released against it. In 1920, the BCG or Bacillus Calmette-Guerin was developed as a vaccine for tuberculosis. The BCG has shown exemplary results with protecting children against the disseminating forms of TB, however, results for adults have varied. The BGC is mostly used as a vaccine to protect children, since most transmission originates from adult cases of TB.


Once infected the treatment for TB focuses on eliminating the M. tuberculosis bacteria in a process called chemoprophylaxis. This reduces the risk of developing active tuberculosis after being exposed to the infection, or with latent TB. According to the World Health Organization the drug for resisting TB, isoniazid should be taken daily for at least 6 months and preferably 9 months.

Checked by Ilna Rita B. Maderazo, MD