Tuberculosis, or "Consumption" as it is often termed, is one of the deadliest diseases of the last couple of centuries. Millions of people have fallen victim to the tuberculosis bacteria. However, despite all the pain, suffering, and death attributed to TB, poets and authors of the 19th century considered it to be a very erotic and beautiful disease. Women dying of consumption were pale, gaunt, weak, and had wonderfully flushed cheeks - all ideals of feminine beauty at the time. Painters used TB victims as models and such landmark works of art as the novel "Dracula" and the opera "La Boheme" are based, in large part, on the erotic aspects of tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is caused by an organism called mycobacterium tuberculosis that is spread through the air and has been isolated in human mummy tissues dating from 2400 BC. The bacilli infect the body - primarily the lungs, but sometimes the bacilli is spread through the bloodstream to various other parts of the body.

A lung infected with TB. Necrosis is extensive and cavitation is prominent. Such a patient is highly contagious
Facial infection of a boy that contracted bovine tuberculosis by drinking milk from an infected cow (1923). Pasteurization put an end to this method of transmission.

Symptoms of TB disease include a cough that will not go away, feeling tired all the time, weight loss, a loss of appetite, fever, coughing up blood, and night sweats. Throughout history tuberculosis has been one of the most written about and deadly of contagions. Although much conjecture and theorizing was done, no real steps were made in the fight against the tuberculosis bacterium until the advent of sanitariums in the mid 1800's. These were isolated care homes where victims of TB were subjected to constant rest and fresh mountain air, in an effort to cure them of their disease. The enforced rest and healthy diet helped to hasten the healing process, but probably the greatest benefit of sanitariums were that they isolated the contagious individuals from the rest of the population.

Young patients take sun therapy, or "heliotherapy", which helped to kill the TB bacteria (1945).
Women getting their necessary bedrest in a Sanitarium.


This picture shows the deformity that results from removal of ribs for lung compression in a surgery called thoracoplasty (1944).

In the 20th century, breakthroughs in medication made the need for sanitariums and crackpot medical techniques obsolete, although new drug-resistant strains of TB are becoming a problem in some parts of the world. Myobacterium tuberculosis is still very much alive.


The information above was gleaned from the pages of The Big Book of Death (DC Comics) and Tuberculosis Experiments and Other Tales. Images shamelessly snagged from Canada's Role In Fighting Tuberculosis and Pathology of Tuberculosis.

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