If you had a cough that went more than usual, the Head of the Elementary School I attended would haul you into her office and take swabs from your mouth. If she did not like what she saw she made one of her very rare phone calls.
A nurse or even a doctor would then arrive to take a look for themselves. If they did not like what they saw they called the ambulance and off you went to hospital. If the hospital found their worst fears were justified you stayed there for a very long while or in a similar institution or died.
The reason for all this was Tuberculosis (TB), a virulent and dangerous disease that killed many and ruined the lives of far more. The stigma attached to it for the individual and family was serious.
After the discovery and introduction of antibiotics TB was brought under control and confined to rare cases that were almost all contained and cured. The huge demands on hospitals, nursing care and resources in the NHS were massively reduced making them available for other needs.
TB is now back again and it has been known for a little time that it has begun to spread and our foolish and wasteful use of antibiotics has led to drug resistance and mutations of the disease that cannot be cured.
Raedwald picked up on a story from The Observer to illustrate one of the many implications:
The Observer link is:
There is a great deal out there on the web about the history of TB and its dire effects on communities and people. But I have a personal memory.
Early in the 1940’s a loved and respected uncle died young aged 33. He had been ill for a while, living with his widowed mother at first before going into hospital. But he had visited relations including ourselves for a few days on occasion.
His death was said to be the complications following a motor cycle accident. What the rest of his family, including close brothers and sisters did not know, was that it was TB and only his mother and one sister knew the truth, it was TB, diagnosed late and severe. The story and the death certificate emerged only fifty years later.
Had it been widely known, it is likely that I would have been quarantined, ending my chances of any secondary education or decent job. My parents may well have both lost their jobs and left with finding any employer who would take them. There would have been many in the family in the same situation, the stigma was so great.
My parents and every other parent lived in terror of their child picking up TB at school or anywhere else, the havoc it caused reached across families and neighbours.
Now it seems, it is back and worse than ever before.