The Scourge of Tuberculosis
January 1, 1900
Imagine a serious disease that spreads through casual contact. Imagine that such a disease is incurable, wearing down its victims, causing them to lose weight, develop other complications, and eventually die.
In 1900, such a disease exists. Known as TB, consumption and the "white plague", tuberculosis is ravaging the country. The death rate is about 200 per 100,000, which may not seem high, but makes it the leading cause of death in Canada. It is especially devastating for Aboriginal peoples and city dwellers.
Medical treatment, such as rest and fresh air in a special TB hospital called a "sanatorium", is only effective in some cases, and is only available to the wealthy. There are no antibiotics or other drugs to fight the disease. Natural therapies, quack therapies and miracle cures that don't work, are advertised and sold everywhere.
The poor are often left to suffer, and in many cases, to die. Their bodies must fight off the infection on their own.
Doctors around the world have only recently come to understand that illnesses like TB are caused by germs and spread by breathing infected air. Better sanitation and living conditions are now seen as key parts of the battle. Doctors are beginning to avoid seeing healthy patients after treating patients with TB - one way the illness spread.
The death rate for TB in 1900 is up to 200 per 100,000 persons. In some aboriginal communities, it is up to 10 times higher. The death rate from TB for newborn aboriginal babies is over 1,018 per 100,000.
In 1996, the death rate from AIDS will be 4.2 per 100,000, and from cancer 185 per 100,000.
Symptoms of TB include:
Canada's first TB sanatorium opened in Muskoka, Ontario in 1897. TB sufferers were sent to sanatoriums to be benefit from rest and fresh air and to avoid infecting others.