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How To Conquer Consumption

Sources: 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

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

the expense.

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

of ten.

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

open air.

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.