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Tuberculosis - One Third Of The World's Population Has It

Updated on December 15, 2011

When you read the current statistics on a disease most people still think of as something of the past -- one that one third of the planet's human population has already, and understand that over a million and a half people die from it -- each and every year -- the Swine Flu H1N1 -- (which spreads by the same methods), at this point just doesn't seem as scary with it's mere less than a half million infected, and only five thousand dying from it world thus far. This other pandemic of disease has been killing people for over four thousand years.

Back in the 1900s, over two hundred and fifty million people died from it. Far worse, is that in today's times, thirty-five million people will die from it in the next twenty years, one billion people will contract the disease. It's a disease that kills more adults each year than any other infectious disease, including malaria and all the the tropical diseases combined. It is a lover of women, as more women will die from it than any other disease.

I guess for me, this disease above all others, has a name and two faces -- that of my maternal great-grandmother (Sarah Alice Owens) and her little toddler girl, who died from it in 1919. The disease I'm talking about is tuberculosis and it's more than shocking to know that there is no known cure for this disease, despite the fact that it has been known to kill us since the times of early Egypt.

They were in good company, and with Sarah being an aspiring author and teacher -- she certainly was perhaps aware of the irony, that she would die of tuberculosis, like many of her admired sources of inspiration.

Among the people who died from it were Robert Louis Stevenson, the Bronte sisters, Honoré de Balzac, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,Robert Burns, Washington Irving, Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant, Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, George Orwell, Henry David Thoreau,and even Mozart.

Today, it's been fifty years since a tuberculosis cure or preferred treatment was developed. Over ninety percent of patients will now survive if they receive the right treatment. So, if you think about it -- the one billion deaths predicted are pretty much all so very unnecessary.

The cure for the disease is complicated and involves taking several different antibiotic drugs for a minimum of six months and often up to a full year or in some cases for two years. People around the world are dying because they are not receiving treatment or receiving inadequate treatment. One person every twenty seconds dies from this disease, and now there are drug resistant variations of this disease. Yet, the newest medications are more than forty years old.

Sarah Alice Owens ca 1917
Sarah Alice Owens ca 1917
Dr. Edward Livingstone Trudeau
Dr. Edward Livingstone Trudeau

The Beloved Physician

It was cold, but very beautiful and quiet in the deep woods that afternoon, so the story goes. The mountains covered with unbroken forest rose steeply from the river, and at their base the valley swept out of sight in gracious waves.

A hunter, clad in well-worn corduroys, thick leather boots and a fur cap, had fallen asleep, his bun beside him, as he waited for a fox. As he slept, the dreamed.

Instead of the fox runway where he stood, he saw the forest melt away and the whole mountainside become covered with curiously built houses. As he gazed intently upon them, the man saw that they were built inside out, as if the inhabits lived on the outside.

It would surprise you to know, that there was a time, if you stood on the spot where the hunter waited through the cold midwinter afternoon, where you would see that his dreams had come true. Dotted over the mountain side were many small buildings, all of them with porches bigger than themselves. Sidewalks and roads ran from point to point in the little colony of dream homes. In the summer, instead of tracks of unbroken forest, green lawns and flower-beds met the eye.

From the day the hunter had that dream, it was only a short time to achieve that great transformation. None other than the hunter himself, Dr. Edward Livingstone Trudeau (1848-1915), called "the beloved physician" made his dreams come true.

Dr. Edward Livingstone Trudeau

When he fell asleep with his gun that cold winter day he was not merely a weary sportsman waiting for a wily fox. He was also a very sick man who had come to the Adirondacks merely to spend his last days amid surroundings which he loved.

He had nursed a brother who had died from tuberculosis, and because so little was known in those days about the disease -- Dr. Trudeau had exposed himself to unnecessary risks and so contracted the same illness.

He was only twenty-five years old at the beginning of a promising medical career, and a happily married man when he first got ill. After some months' stay close to Saranac Lake at the lodge of the famous trail guide, Paul Smith - Dr. Trudeau gained so much benefit from the beautiful air and restful woods that he returned a second time.

This treatment of open air and rest is one that is usually followed now, but in those days it was a new thing. If the patients were ill enough they were kept in bed, and all fresh air was carefully excluded, or if they were well enough to be about -- violent exercise, such as horseback riding, was often prescribed. Of course, all of this prior to the 1950s, had disastrous results for the patients.

The second summer Dr. Trudeau, against all then medical advice, decided to remain on through the severe winter, although Paul Smith's was then sixty miles from a doctor or a railroad, and entirely cut off from all connection with the outside world.

The Adirondacks were a real hunter's paradise, and every day the doctor followed his favorite sport, which was quite possible without going far form the house.

His wife and two children joined him, and the doctor so improved that he began to practice medicine once again among the people who lived in the region. After four years, he moved to Saranac Lake, then only a small lumber center with only a few houses and a sawmill.

The Trudeau Sanatorium had wide porches looking out upon green lawns.  Photo: 1909
The Trudeau Sanatorium had wide porches looking out upon green lawns. Photo: 1909

Land For The Sanatorium Was A Gift Of The Guides

A few patients placed themselves under his care, and gradually the number increased. The visitors to the lakes were generally wealthy people, but Dr. Trudeau gave the guides and their families free medical attention. They were all soon devoted to him.

When the doctor made up his mind to build a sanatorium at Saranac Lake for people of moderate means, the guides found out the piece of land that he wanted and by subscription raised the money and gave Dr. Trudeau the land.

Plans for building were at once considered and the doctor, putting his pride in his pocket, began asking his friends, acquaintances and patients for subscriptions towards the expenses. For thirty years here bravely continued to beg money for others and on many occasions had great pleasure in the generosity of his friends.

This was not done easily or without setbacks. On the contrary, the thirty years were full of uphill and heroic effort often in the midst of bad health, difficulties, trials and sorrows.

Year by year, he face the problem of paying a debt on his sanatorium because patients were charged a fee that did not cover expenses.

Each and every day was lived among people who were often in the saddest condition. Three of his four children died, but he continued bravely in his work. His house and little laboratory were burned down, all his instruments and precious records lost -- but he gradually rebuilt them.

Dr. Edward Livingstone Trudeau in his laboratory.
Dr. Edward Livingstone Trudeau in his laboratory.

Studying The Germ That Caused The Dreaded Disease

Besides looking after his patients in the sanatorium, and those who came from the country around or journeyed from far to see him -- his fame grew fast.

Dr. Trudeau was occupied constantly with experiments that would help in the fight against disease. Back then it was very hard to get instruments and apparatus even in the cities. So you can imagine how had it was so far away in the heart of the woods.

His first laboratory was a little room at Saranac Lake, heated by a wood stove (there was no coal). He had a home-made apparatus, heated by a kerosene lamp, and in this he succeeded in growing the tubercle bacillus, which had been discovered by Koch to be the germ that causes the disease.

Dr. Trudeau had many curious experiences among his patients. on one occasion at the end of a long day's work he saw a wretched-looking man waiting outside his office.

The doctor was worn out, and it was in no very pleasant tone that he told the patient to enter, yet when he saw how thin and ill the last visitor was, he heart softened. The tramp sat down, put his hands in his pockets and started at the doctor.

The Man From The Poor House

"How did you come here, and what is wrong?" asked the doctor, and his visitor told a frank tale.

He had been sent to a large public hospital, and not liking it, determined to get out.

In the ward he heard the doctors and patients speak of Saranac Lake and Dr. Trudeau, and made up his mind to strike out for the sanatorium. He was without a cent, but begged enough to get some small amount of money way on his journey. Soon, however, he was discovered and placed in the poorhouse.

He told the authorities his story and his aim, and they bought him a ticket to Saranac.

"In that way I finally got here. Now what can you do for me, Doctor?"

The doctor collected enough money from some of his patients for the tramp to build a little rough board shanty on a vacant lot. There he slept on a straw bed, and the hotel proprietor gave him food so that his lived very contentedly. He says for eighteen months and the doctor grew very fond of him.

So the work prospered and spread, and the fame of the delicate doctor grew. Other states, other cities and other individuals followed the plan of Saranac Lake Sanatorium, which was the first of its kind in America to practice the simple principles of fresh air, suitable food and rest.

Even the famous Robert Louis Stevenson went there for the outdoor cure in 1897. However, he would later die from tuberculosis once he left there.  By the time it was finished the sanatorium had over fifty buildings, patient and staff cottages, an infirmary, a workshop, library, laundry, chapel, it's own nursing school, and even it's own post office whose stamp marked "Tradeau, NY."

Founded in 1884, today it has involved into a non-profit biomedical research center, focused on eradication of infectious and inflamatory diseases

When Dr. Trudeau died, in 1915, he had the satisfaction of knowing that his work marked the raising of the standard in the great fight against tuberculosis -- the white plague as it was then referred to.


Countries With The Highest Rates of Tuberculosis

  • Bangladesh
  • China
  • Congo
  • Ethopia
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Phillipines
  • South Africa


The Silent Killer - Tuberculosis


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    • MagicStarER profile image


      8 years ago from Western Kentucky

      Thanks for a good hub about tuberculosis. I would like to add here that you can contract TB in another way besides just in your lungs (which is spread by respiratory droplets and is contagious). You can also get it by EATING something with the tuberculosis bacilli in it, in which case you get Miliary Tuberculosis - which is TB in your internal organs. You can be infected with TB in your lymph system, bones, organs like liver, spleen, kidneys, heart, stomach, intestines, etc. What the bacteria does is eat little rice-shaped holes in your bones or organs. It is noticeable in x-rays if in your bones, or by biopsy of affected organs. Symptoms are night sweats, weakness, bone, liver, or other pains, swollen lymph glands, weakness, always tired, constant low-grade fever, etc. (When I had this I would sleep for 2 days at a time, and hair would be wringing wet from the night sweats)

      I lived in Mexico for 12 years and I found this out the hard way. I caught this by eating cheeses and drinking the milk down there, which was sometimes not properly pasteurized. When you are in a foreign country, please be careful of the cheese, cream, butter, yoghurt, etc, and the milk.

      I became very ill with this and was hospitalized for 4 months because of it. It took a long time and a great deal of doing, for the doctors to figure out what it was. They prescribed 2 yrs of Isoniazid and Rifampin, which made me vomit blood and which I could not take.

      There is a highly-resistant strain of TB here in the US now - it is very communicable and is difficult or even impossible to get rid of it.

      Practicing good respiratory and food hygiene is very important. And when you go to a 3rd world country, please be careful with the milk products!!!

      (This is experience talking - I was sick for a long time with this - lymph glands all swollen, bones burning, fevers and night sweats, weak, lots of pain, could barely walk, and many months of hospitals and medications. The damage done by Tuberculosis is permanent!)

      This was a really good hub topic, thanks for writing it! People need to know that TB is still out there and making a comeback! :)

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks carriegoff! I certainly concur.

    • carriegoff profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Very informative. TB is such a strange disease. I agree that more research money should go to find a prevention. Thanks for the information.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Shalini Kagal! I think it is exceptionally scary considering this is a very global world.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      8 years ago from India

      What a very detailed and gripping hub, Jerilee! One would have thought that there would have been a cure a long time ago but with drug-resistant TB on the rise, the picture can only be scary!

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks BookFlame! That's exactly my point in bringing up "forgotten diseases."

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      So shocking that this disease is still so widespread.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks krusader! Kind of sad, isn't it?

      Thanks Jawa Lunk! That would be interesting to research.

    • profile image

      Jawa Lunk 

      8 years ago

      I think two-thirds of the world population has the ST-PDS

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I wonder why the CDC and the WHO are sounding the alarms for H1N1 when clearly diseases like Tuberculosis and other more common diseases are a bigger threat to humanity. Its not like they don't have this information. Hmmmm. Good article.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Mitch King! True.

    • Mitch King profile image

      Mitch King 

      8 years ago from Wilsoville, OR, USA

      Many diseases that parents today think are gone really are not. That is why the recent movement to skip immunizations is putting not only kids but everyone else in danger.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks GusTheRedneck! It takes some people to catch on longer than it does the rest of us. Still, we don't screen travelers to this country like they do in China or other places and contribute to the spread of diseases.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      8 years ago from USA

      Jerrilee - TB is bad stuff. Your article is a winner for certain. On a somewhat lighter note - when I was young I worked nights in a big hospital. Our "maintenance man" was offered better pay to go to work in a nearby "TB Sanitarium. After about 6 months we got a post card from him telling us that he was quitting his job there "because I learned that there was TB in this place." Gus

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks 2uesday! It's surprising how many people don't know this disease isn't something of the past, but a reality today.

      Thanks Vizey! India is one of the countries today that is making many strides in medicine that will help the whole world.

      Thanks shamelabboush! It's also difficult to treat because the patients often don't grasp the seriousness of the treatment plan and relax once symptoms are lessened and don't take their medications as prescribed.

    • shamelabboush profile image


      8 years ago

      I know that this disease is dormant and it's effects take sometime which makes it difficult to treat! Enjoyed the hub JW, thanks.

    • Vizey profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi, Your hub is nice in India as well as many other country this disease has taken life of many innocent people. hope doctors would be able to find its treatment as soon as possible.

    • 2uesday profile image


      8 years ago

      My maternal grandmother had TB as a child and was sent to recover in a sanatorium she recovered and went on to marry and have a family. She was an amazing character although I never realised that until recently.

      I knew TB still exsisted but did not know people still died from it....this is a very imformative hub, thank you.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the compliments pgrundy! Hope you and Bill are both doing much better. Lack of reaction and recognition concerns me with this one.

      Thanks Aya! I've spent enough time years ago recovering to know the psychological plays a far more important role than most people realize. I personally know that pain is often something you can control or lessen. Doesn't seem possible that certain diseases will ever be eradicated and while unpopular or possibly making people uncomfortable the elimination of all disease might have some scary implications too.

      Thanks Dolores Monet! TB certainly changed the direction of our entire family even a couple of generations later. Florine's story might be a nice one to put a face on this disease?

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      A beautifully written piece. When my great aunt went to Mt.Wilson TB Sanitarium (she was in her early 20's) after catching it from her father, my great grandmother took a job there to be near her. My ggrandmother used the money she earned to buy Florine beautiful pajamas - she looked like a movie star. Florine never recovered. I have her diary and the pictures of her and look them over, once in a while, have a little cry for poor Florine.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Jerilee, another well written and well researched hub! I think much disease could be alleviated just by taking a rest in peaceful surroundings. How much of this treatment is physical and how much psychological? Hard to say.

      I have my doubts about eradicating all infectious and inflammatory disease. That seems neither possible nor desirable.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for this. Everything you write is thorough and well done. You are really a gift to Hub Pages. I know you are appreciated. It is understandable that TB was once called 'consumption' at one time. How horrible. It does seem though that the Victorians almost eroticized it. I was researching a hub on vampires (that I never wrote because Bill got sick Oct. 12th and its been too hectic here), and it seems there was a relationship to consumption. The reaction of society to these things fascinates me.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Hello, hello!

      Thanks lorlie6! I was thinking we need more dedicated people like the good Dr. Trudeau.

      Thanks Peter Dickinson! One thing I failed to put in this was that you can have this disease and not know it. That's why health care and food workers are screened every year here,.

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 

      8 years ago from South East Asia

      Frightening disease. I have known a few who had it...or that should probably be have it in light of what you have said. Well researched. Thank you.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      8 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      It was such a pleasure to wake this morning to your lovely prose telling such a wonderful tale. Thanks, Jerilee. If only doctors today would go to such extremes...who knows, maybe some do!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      I heard many a times of the disease but never knew so many details. I thoroughly enjoyed reading hub. Thank you.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Mike the salesman! I remembered that but limited the list of famous people who died from TB to a short list. Down in the If You'd Like To Know More! part of the hub there is a semi-complete list on one of the links -- very surprising list.

      Thanks Patty Inglish, MS. It's a sad statement that most of the people dying from it are in poor countries and because the numbers are not currently huge here and elsewhere -- research for a newer medicine takes a back seat. That's really foolish in a global world where TB is even on the rise in this country.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      This is an awesome, well-prepared and presented Hub! I've bookmarked it.

    • Mike the salesman profile image

      Mike the salesman 

      8 years ago from birmingham alabama/sherwood oregon

      Doc Holiday died of TB... They termed people in the old west with TB as lungers. Eye opening article! Thanks!

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks diogenes! Certainly makes you think when twenty-give thousand Americans fall victim to it each year and it is seldom mentioned.

    • diogenes profile image


      8 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Another beneficiary of the viral bridge. It makes you wonder if we haven't just about reached the maximum in world population with so many diseases and all the rest threatening us. As ever, mother nature will restore the balance, eventually having us join the lists of the extinct. Good hub as usual. I will read it more carefully later. Bob

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks Tammy Lochmann! I think because of my family history and the profound affect it had on my grandmother in losing her mom and her sister at age 11 and then the fact that my mom has always tested positive but not had TB has made me a little more aware of this disease. Added to that is the fact that we travel often internationally.

    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 

      8 years ago

      I know first hand that you never know if you have been infected with the bacteria. As a healthcare worker we are tested yearly for TB. This was really interesting. I wasn't aware that so many famous people were afflicted by TB. How did you decided on this subject? I really like this :-) -Tammy


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