Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TB and human history

After studying the remains of mummies from South America to Egypt, scientists found that humans have suffered from tuberculosis dating as far back as 2050 B.C. Of the 85 exhumed mummies from various parts of Egypt, 25 were shown to have bovine tuberculosis. Six percent of the mummies that were studied from South America had spine and lung damage, both signs of tuberculosis and arthritis. Yet, scientist were surprised at their findings; most historians and scientist previously thought that Spanish conquistadores brought tuberculosis to the Americas, yet the bodies of the South American mummies predate the conquistadores arrival.

Although tuberculosis has infected humans for over 4,000 years, Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, was the first to formally described TB as phthsis (Greek for consummation) in 460 B.C. as a way to describe how the infection consumed those infected. At that time, tuberculosis was the most deadly and widespread disease, killing virtually everyone who contracted it. Nonetheless, not until 1882, when the actual bacterium was discovered, would TB be known as tuberculosis.

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