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How To Conquer Consumption
Category: HOW TO KEEP THE LUNG-BELLOWS IN GOOD CONDITION
Source: A Handbook Of Health
Different Forms of Tuberculosis. The terrible disease tuberculosis is
the most serious and deadly enemy which the human body has to face. It
kills every year, in the United States, over a hundred and fifty
thousand men, women, and children--more lives than were lost in battle
in the four years of our Civil War. It is caused by a tiny germ--the
tubercle bacillus--so called because it forms little mustard-seed-like
lumps, or masses, in the lungs, called tubercles, or little tubers.
For some reason it attacks most frequently and does its greatest damage
in the lungs, where it is called consumption; but it may penetrate and
attack any tissue or part of the body. Tuberculosis of the glands, or
kernels, of the neck and skin, is called scrofula; tuberculosis of
the hip is hip-joint disease; and tuberculosis of the knee, white
swelling. Spinal disease and hunch-back are, nine times out of ten,
tuberculosis of the backbone. Tuberculosis of the bowels often causes
fatal wasting away, with diarrhea, in babies and young children; and
tuberculosis of the brain (called tubercular meningitis) causes fatal
convulsions in infancy.
Tuberculosis of the Lungs--How to Keep it from Spreading. Tuberculosis
of the lungs is the most dangerous of all forms, both because the lungs
appear to have less power of resistance against the tubercle bacillus,
and also because from the lung, the bacilli can readily be coughed up
and blown into the air again, or spit onto the floor, to be breathed
into the lungs of other people, and thus give them the disease.
Two-thirds of all who die of tuberculosis die of the pulmonary, or lung,
form of the disease, popularly called consumption.
The first thing then to be done to put a stop to this frightful waste of
human life every year is to stop the circulation of the bacillus from
one person to another. This can be done partially and gradually by
seeing that every consumptive holds a handkerchief, or cloth, before his
mouth whenever he coughs; that he uses a paper napkin, pasteboard box,
flask, or other receptacle whenever he spits; and that these things in
which the sputum is caught are promptly burned, boiled, or otherwise
sterilized by heat. The only sure and certain way, however, of stopping
its spread is by placing the consumptive where he is in no danger of
infecting any one else. And as it fortunately so happens that such a
place--that is to say, a properly regulated sanatorium, or camp--is the
place which will give him his best chance of recovery, at least five
times as good as if he were left in his own home, this is the plan which
is almost certain to be adopted in the future. Its only real drawback is
But when you remember that consumption destroys a hundred and fifty
thousand lives every year in this country alone, and that it is
estimated that every human life is worth at least three thousand dollars
to the community, you will see at once that consumption costs us in
deaths alone, four hundred and fifty million dollars a year! And when
you further remember that each person who dies has usually been sick
from two to three years, and that two-thirds of such persons are
workers, or heads of families, and that tens of thousands of other
persons who do not die of it, have been disabled for months and damaged
or crippled for life by it, you can readily see what an enormous sum we
could well afford to pay in order to stamp it out entirely.
One of the most important safeguards against the disease is the law
that prevents spitting in public places. Not only the germs of
consumption, but those of pneumonia, colds, catarrhs, diphtheria, and
other diseases, can be spread by spitting. The habit is not only
dangerous, but disgusting, unnecessary, and vulgar, so that most cities
and many states have now passed laws prohibiting spitting in public
places, under penalty of fine and imprisonment.
The next best safeguard is plenty of fresh air and sunlight in every
room of the house. These things are doubly helpful, both because they
increase the vigor and resisting power of those who occupy the rooms and
might catch the disease, and because direct sunlight, and even bright
daylight, will rapidly kill the bacilli when it can get directly at
How great is the actual risk of infection in crowded, ill-ventilated
houses is well shown by the reports of the tuberculosis dispensaries of
New York and other large cities. Whenever a patient comes in with
tuberculosis, they send a visiting nurse to his home, to show him how
best to ventilate his rooms, and to bring in all the other members of
the family to the dispensary for examination. No less than from
one-fourth to one-half of the children in these families are found to
be already infected with tuberculosis. The places where we look for our
new cases of tuberculosis now are in the same rooms or houses with old
ones. A careful consumptive is no source of danger; but alas, not more
than one in three are of that character.
It has been estimated that any city or county could provide proper
camps, or sanatoria, to accommodate all its consumptives and cure
two-thirds of them in the process, support their families meanwhile, and
stop the spread of the disease, at an expense not to exceed five dollars
each per annum for five years, rapidly diminishing after that. If this
were done, within thirty years consumption would probably become as rare
as smallpox is now. Some day, when the community is ready to spend the
money, this will be done, but in the mean time, we must attack the
disease by slower and less certain methods.
Why the Fear and Danger of Consumption have been Lessened. Terrible
and deadly as consumption is, we no longer go about in dread of it, as
people did twenty-five years ago, before we knew what caused it; for we
know now that it is preventable and that two-thirds of the cases can be
cured after they develop. The word consumption is no longer equivalent
to a sentence of death. The deaths from tuberculosis each year have
diminished almost one-half in the last forty years, in nearly every
civilized country in the world; and this decrease is still going on.
The methods which have brought about this splendid progress, and which
will continue it, if we have the intelligence and the determination to
stick to them, are:--First, the great improvements in food supply,
housing, ventilation, drainage, and conditions of life in general, due
to the progress of modern civilization and science, combined with a
marked increase in wages in the great working two-thirds of the
community. Second, the discovery that consumption is caused by a
bacillus, and by that alone, and is spread by the scattering of that
bacillus into the air, or upon food, drink, or clothing, to be breathed
in or eaten by other victims. Third, increase of medical skill and
improved methods of recognizing the disease at a very early stage. A
case of consumption discovered early means a case cured, eight times out
Its Cure and Prevention. Fortunately, the same methods which will cure
the disease will also prevent it. The best preventatives are food, fresh
air, and sunshine. Eat plenty of nourishing food three times a day,
especially of milk, eggs, and meat. Sit or work in a gentle current of
air, keep away from those who have the disease, sleep with your windows
open, take plenty of exercise in the open air, and you need have little
fear of consumption.
In the camps, or sanatoria, for the cure of consumption, these methods
are simply carried a little further, to make up for previous neglect.
The patients sit or lie out of doors all day long, usually in reclining
chairs, in summer under the trees, and in winter on porches, with just
enough roof to protect them from rain or snow. They sleep in tents, or
in shacks, which are closed in only on three sides, leaving the front
open to the south. They dress and undress in a warm room, or the
curtains of the tent are dropped, or the shutters of the shack closed
night and morning until the room is warmed up. In cold climates they
dress day and night almost as if they were going on an arctic relief
expedition, and spend twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four in the
They eat three square meals a day, consisting of everything that is
appetizing, nutritious, and wholesome, with plenty of butter, or other
fats; and in addition, drink from one to three pints of new milk and
swallow from six to twelve raw eggs a day. You would think they would
burst on such a diet, but they don't; they simply gain from two to four
pounds a week, lose their fever and their cough, get rid of their night
sweats, and usually in from two to five weeks are able to be up and
about the camp, taking light exercise. When they have reached their
full, normal, or healthy weight for their height and age, their amount
of food is reduced, but still kept at what would be considered full
diet for a healthy man at hard work. If sick people can be made well by
this open air treatment, those of us that are well ought not be afraid
to have a window open all night.
Two-thirds of the treatment that would cure you of consumption will
prevent your ever having it. While tuberculosis chiefly attacks the
lungs, it is really a disease of the entire body, or system, and cannot
attack you if you will keep yourself strong, vigorous, and clean in
every sense of the word.
How to Recognize the Disease in its Early Stages. To recognize the
disease early is, of course, work for the doctor; but he must be helped
by the intelligence of the patient, or the patient's family, or he may
not see the case until it is so far advanced as to have lost its best
chance of cure. We can now recognize consumption before the lungs are
seriously diseased. Among the most useful methods with children is the
rubbing or scratching of a few drops of the toxin of the tubercle
bacillus, tailed tuberculin, into the skin. If the children are
healthy, this will leave no mark, or reddening, at all; but if they have
tuberculosis, in two-thirds of the cases it will make a little reddening
and swelling like a very mild vaccination. But in order to get any good
from this, cases must be brought to a doctor, early, without waiting for
a bad cough, or for night sweats.
Signs of Consumption. The signs that ought to make us suspicious of a
possible beginning of tuberculosis are first, loss of weight without
apparent cause; fever, or flushing of the cheeks, with or without
headache, every afternoon or evening; and a tendency to become easily
tired and exhausted without unusual exertion. Whenever these three signs
are present, without some clear cause, such as a cold, or unusual
overwork or strain, especially if they be accompanied by a rapid pulse
and a tendency to get out of breath readily in running upstairs, they
should make us suspect tuberculosis; and if they keep up, it is
advisable to go at once and have the lungs thoroughly examined. Nine
cases out of ten, seen at this stage, are curable--many of them in a few
Even if we should not have the disease, if we have these symptoms we
need to have our health improved; and a course of life in the open air,
good feeding, and rest, which would cure us if we had tuberculosis, will
build us up and prevent us from developing it.
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