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    TB and Hansen's Disease Branch

    MC 1939
    P.O. Box 149347
    Austin, TX 78756-9347

    Phone: 512-533-3000
    Fax: 512-533-3167

    Email the TB Program

A Brief History of TB

Tuberculosis (TB) has affected humans for thousands of years. TB was also known as consumption, wasting disease, and the white plague. Until the mid 1800’s, people thought TB might be hereditary. For many people, a diagnosis of TB was considered a slow death sentence.

Dr. Robert Koch In 1865, a French surgeon, Jean-Antoine Villemin, proved that TB was contagious. In 1882, Dr. Robert Koch, who was a German scientist, discovered the bacteria that causes TB. In those days, people went to sanatoriums where they followed a prescribed routine every day of rest, fresh air, sunshine and extra food. In 1943, an American scientist Selman Waksman discovered a drug that could kill TB bacteria. Between 1943 and 1952, two more drugs were found. (Nation-wide reporting first began in 1953.) After these discoveries, many people with TB were cured and the death rate for TB in the United States dropped dramatically.

By the mid-1970’s, most TB sanatoriums in the United States had closed. In the next two decades, people began to hope that TB could be eliminated from the United States, like polio and smallpox.

However, in the mid-1980’s, the number of TB cases started to increase. Because of the increase of TB, health departments and other organizations stepped up their efforts to prevent and control the disease. In 1992, TB cases reported in the U.S. began to decline again. But even today, TB can be fatal if not treated.

The World Health Organization estimates that every year, 8 million people in the world develop TB disease and 2 million people die of the disease.

Last updated February 27, 2012