The World Health Organization and other public health bodies around the globe, both national and trans-national in scope, celebrate the 24th of March every year as “World TB Day,” because on that day in 1884 the great bacteriologist Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the virus that causes tuberculosis.
People have been suffering from TB, also known in Koch’s day as “consumption” because of the way it seemed to eat it victims from within, throughout human history. Skeletal remains of humans from as far back as 4000 BC have been found to have evidence of TB.
The disease is also found in a range of bovine species around the world. The remains of a bison that died of TB 17,000 years ago were discovered in Wyoming in 2001.
In the 18th and 19th centuries TB assumed epidemic proportions regularly in Europe and North America. About four million people died from TB in England and Wales alone in the period between 1851 and 1910.
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Koch’s isolation of the mycobacterium tuberculosis led to the development of an effective vaccine by two French scientists in 1906. About 70 years later, with the improvements in both immunization and treatments, there was hope that the terrible old disease would soon be completely eradicated. Those hopes have been dashed in more recent decades by the resurgence of TB by way of the development of vaccine and drug resistant strains.