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ISSN: Print -2349-0977, Online - 2349-4387
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 7-26

The tuberculosis timeline: Of white plague, a birthday present, and vignettes of myriad hues

Departments of Radiodiagnosis, Orthopedic Surgery, Medicine and Nuclear Medicine, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College and Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Yatish Agarwal
Department of Radiodiagnosis, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College and Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2349-0977.217662

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Researchers have been digging hard to unearth the hoary past of tuberculosis. Unbelievable as it may seem, growing evidence exists that the first ancestors of Mycobacterium tuberculosis inhabited earth more than 2.6 million years ago. Eons before the hominoids set their feet on this godly planet, and Adam and Eve and their children came into being! Some ancient skeletal and mummified fossils belonging to diverse species, including dinosaurs, Pleistocene bison, and other bovines like goats and cows, have been found stamped with classic tubercular lesions and bearing the irrefutable molecular genetics inscription of mycobacteria. Of the human tuberculosis, the most ancient evidence has been found in the remains of half a million year old hominid. Old medical texts emanating from different parts of the world – in ancient lands of India, China, Egypt, Babylonia, and Greece – portray the disease through its umpteen names and nuances. Known by such grisly appellations as “the Robber of Youth”, “the Graveyard Cough”, “the White Plague”, tuberculosis burnt a deadly trail claiming millions of lives down the ages. The first major breakthrough against it came in 1882, when the German physician Robert Koch isolated the culprit organism. By mid 20th century, a chain of therapeutic molecules had been found to thwart the malevolent bacteria. Still, “the Captain of the Men of Death” carried on its death-game, finding staunch allies in hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Came the 1980s, it found new vigor by teaming with a new half-brother, the human immunodeficiency virus. Epidemics returned to lands where the disease had stood previously diminished; pushing for the discovery of newer treatments and novel therapies. The wicked dance of tuberculosis, however, continues to rage. Current estimates indicate that nearly a third of the world's population is infected with the bacillus, 10.4 million people carry active disease, and more than 2 million perish of the disease each year. The global community has declared a war on the disease and given the clarion call of “End TB strategy”. Yet, only time shall tell who will score the last hurrah: the bacillus or man!

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