There is evidence that man has suffered from tuberculosis for more than 5,000 years, and through crowded living conditions, debilitation, and malnutrition, tuberculosis became epidemic in Western civilization and was a major cause of mortality. Identification of the tubercle bacillus as the causative agent in 1882 firmly established the infectious nature of the disease and the development of sanatoriums soon followed. Before the advent of effective chemotherapeutic agents, treatment involved rest, diet, and various surgical procedures, which were of little or no benefit to the patient. The discovery of dihydrostreptomycin, aminosalicylic acid, and isoniazid in the late 1940s and early 1950s meant that tuberculosis was now entirely curable in virtually all patients. Despite these effective chemotherapeutic and preventive agents, tuberculosis has receded to socioeconomically disadvantaged urban and rural areas, where the incidence parallels that of developing countries. Conquest of the disease will require improved health care delivery to the indigent and dispossessed.
(Arch Intern Med 139:1375-1377, 1979)