Tuberculosis and Medicine

Tuberculosis was the major threat of the 19th century in both Europe and North America that killed one victim in England and Wales every five minutes. Sanatorium movement labeled tuberculosis as a disease caused by one’s way of life and could be prevented and treated by fresh air, exercise, and good nutrition in a sanatorium. Sanatoriums were hospitals for long term illnesses like TB before the invention of antibiotics. Very common it was treated by rest in bed in hospital through the second half of 19th century.

Peruna ads do not contain tuberculosis though it is clearly an issue and had major news coverage. Little to none was known about illnesses like tuberculosis leaving medical professionals scratching their heads. Perhaps trials were done but were deemed unsuccessful, and therefore, not published in the Egyptian Gazette.

Even though there were no new drugs on the market for tuberculosis, action was being taken in other avenues. A village in Italy named Salsomaggiore became famous for its waters rich in various nutrients such as bromine, iodine, and lithium that were used to treat rheumatism, tuberculosis, and ladies’ complaints. The Anti-Tuberculosis League worked to educate the public when news headlines disclosed that tuberculosis was a concern in Egypt. This group blamed the outbreak of the disease on the ignorance of natives and part of the European population to hygiene.

In a telegram I found a heading referring to “Bovine tuberculosis” and that it had been discovered to be communicable through raw milk in 1907 which left me to infer that at this time Egypt and Europe had not yet created any pasteurization laws or pasteurized milk was difficult to obtain for certain populations. However, I recalled an ad entitled “Howie’s Sterilized Milk or Cream” which was targeted to those traveling to Europe as well as young children. This ad starting to appear in the Gazette even in the year 1905, before it was circulated in telegrams in sent in 1907. Perhaps no laws yet required the pasteurization of milk and only those that could afford sterilized milk bought it and the rest were left more susceptible to tuberculosis.

I used the query //div[(@type=“advert”) or (@type=“advertisement”)]/p originally to see if there were any advertisements that contained either TB or Tuberculosis, and I came up with only one ad in the local and general section that was not really supposed to be tagged as an ad. After that, I was curious as to how many times just the word “tuberculosis” appeared with no restriction and got 78 results. I then decided that since there were so little results, that I would just go through these one at a time to see what information I could gather most of which I touched on above. Furthermore, I created a visualization comparing the frequency of tuberculosis per month and per year.

In the years 1905-1907 September, October, and May had the most mentions of tuberculosis. This may be correlated to weather conditions or an overall decrease in cases due to the establishment of more hospitals and sanatoriums. In October of 1905 a Professor by the name of Behring claimed of a new remedy, but this new remedy was never officially disclosed. This new remedy could have possibly been revealed as insufficient and was therefore not retouched in the Gazette.

With many ads like Dr. William’s Pink Pills for Pale People, which claimed to be the cure all by purifying the blood or even making new blood, since at the time bad blood was thought to be a trigger for disease, you would think tuberculosis would be included in their long list of curable diseases. I personally do not know a lot about tuberculosis and its status in the medical world today, so I decided to do a little more digging to see how medical breakthroughs have altered the occurrence and elimination of the disease currently and how this is compares to Egypt in the early 1900s. What I found from an article by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health was that to the World Health Organization (WHO), TB is still a worldwide epidemic. In 2010 WHO declared that about 1/3 of the world’s population was infected by TB, which is not very far from 2019. Doctors even face issues with drug-resistant strainsof the disease which lead to further modifications of treatment. Of course, we have witnessed ground-breaking discoveries in treating and preventing the spread of TB by the development of vaccines as well as antibiotics since the 1900s but there is still a lot of guesswork done in the treatment and management of tuberculosis, a lot similar to the nature of medical intervention mentioned in Egypt and Europe between the years 1904 and 1907.

Breanna Heflin

The author, a student at Florida State University, was enrolled in the digital microhistory lab in fall 2019.