The Forgotten Plague - 9pm, Thursday 25 June on Sky 534 & Virgin Media 243
This documentary looks at the history of tuberculosis in America and how the disease has shaped medical and scientific pursuits, social habits, economic development and even government policy.
Although most often affecting the lungs, tuberculosis can attack any part of the body, particularly if the patient’s immune system has been weakened. For nearly two centuries, the disease was America’s leading cause of death, responsible for one in seven fatalities, yet its cause remained a mystery. After the tuberculosis bacillus was discovered in 1882, treatment of the disease changed dramatically, with patients isolated in sanitaria. Dr Edward Livingston Trudeau, a sufferer himself, established the country's first sanitarium at Saranac Lake, New York, in 1885. In 1943, Albert Schatz discovered streptomycin, an antibiotic that was heralded as a miracle cure. Within two years, streptomycin had liberated many patients from the sanitarium, and subsequent decades saw deaths from TB in the US decline to the point where it seemed the disease would be eradicated. But the bacterium began mutating into drug- resistant strains and the early 1990s saw a sudden reappearance, with an epidemic in New York City causing consternation among public health officials. The disease that has stalked the nation - and the world - for centuries stubbornly refuses to die.