How Did Tuberculosis Begin? The Untold Story.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs. It is caused by a bacterium known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Despite being one of the oldest diseases known to man, little is known about the origin and spread of tuberculosis. In this article, we will explore the untold story of how tuberculosis began, its spread, and its impact on human society.

Prehistoric Era: The Origin of TB

The origin of tuberculosis can be traced back to the prehistoric era. The disease is believed to have existed in ancient times, although there is no definitive evidence to support this claim. The oldest known human remains infected with TB were discovered in the late 1990s in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Carbon dating of the bones revealed that the man had lived around 7000 BC, making him the oldest known tuberculosis patient. Although there is no clear connection between this discovery and the spread of TB, it provides valuable insight into the prehistoric origins of the disease.

The First Recorded Cases of TB

The first recorded cases of TB date back to ancient Egypt, over 5000 years ago. Evidence has been found to suggest that the disease was present in the Nile Valley region around 3000 BC. The Egyptians believed that TB was caused by the gods, and attempted to cure it using various methods, including magic, surgery, and herbal remedies. Despite these efforts, the disease continued to spread, and by the time of the Pharaohs, it had become a common cause of death in Egypt.

The Spread of TB throughout History

While the exact origins of TB remain unknown, it is believed to have spread throughout the world in ancient times, mainly through trade routes and conquests. As early civilizations grew and expanded, so did the disease. TB was spread further through the Silk Road, the Mediterranean Sea, and other trade routes. The disease also spread through military campaigns, with soldiers bringing it back to their home countries.

The Impact of Industrialization on TB

The impact of industrialization on the spread of TB cannot be overstated. With the rise of urbanization in the 19th century, TB spread rapidly through crowded cities, slums, and tenements. Poor living conditions, inadequate sanitation, and malnutrition all contributed to the spread of the disease. By the turn of the century, TB had become one of the leading causes of death in industrialized nations.

The Discovery of the Tuberculosis Bacillus

The discovery of the tuberculosis bacillus in 1882 by German physician Robert Koch was a breakthrough in the battle against the disease. The development of the tuberculin skin test, which could identify individuals who had been exposed to TB, was another significant advance. These discoveries led to the development of antibiotics and other treatments for TB, which have saved countless lives.

Modern Era: The Fight against TB

Despite decades of research and medical advances, TB remains a major public health threat in many parts of the world. Every year, around 10 million people are infected with TB, and 1.5 million die from the disease. While TB can affect anyone, it is particularly prevalent in developing countries, where poverty, malnutrition, overcrowding, and limited access to healthcare make it difficult to control the spread of the disease.

The World Health Organization’s Efforts to Combat TB

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been at the forefront of the fight against TB for many years. In 1993, the WHO declared TB a global health emergency, and has since launched numerous campaigns to raise awareness about the disease and promote prevention and treatment strategies. The WHO’s directly observed treatment, short-course (DOTS) strategy has been particularly effective in reducing TB mortality rates in developing countries.

The Future of TB: Stopping the Spread

The future of TB looks promising, with advances in research and technology leading to new treatments and prevention strategies. The development of the BCG vaccine, which has been used since the 1920s to prevent TB, has been a major success. However, new strains of TB have emerged, which are resistant to traditional antibiotics. The fight against TB is ongoing, but with continued research and investment, we can hope to one day see a world free from this deadly disease.

Preventive Measures against TB

Preventive measures against TB include vaccination, good hygiene practices, and timely diagnosis and treatment. Vaccination with the BCG vaccine is the most effective way to prevent TB, although its effectiveness varies depending on age, geography, and other factors. Good hygiene practices, such as covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing hands regularly, and avoiding close contact with infected individuals, can also help to reduce the spread of TB.

Treatment for TB

The standard treatment for TB involves a combination of antibiotics, taken for a period of 6-9 months. It is essential to complete the entire course of antibiotics, even if symptoms disappear, to ensure that the infection is completely eradicated. New strains of TB, which are resistant to traditional antibiotics, require longer treatment and more intensive therapy. The use of advanced technologies, such as gene sequencing, is also being explored to develop more effective treatments for TB.


The story of tuberculosis is a tale of mystery, tragedy, and triumph. From its prehistoric origins to its spread throughout history, to the ongoing fight against the disease, TB has had a profound impact on human society. While much remains to be learned about the origins and spread of TB, there is hope for a future free from this deadly disease.

Most Common Questions Related to Tuberculosis

  • What is tuberculosis?
  • What causes tuberculosis?
  • How is tuberculosis spread?
  • What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?
  • How is tuberculosis diagnosed?
  • What is the treatment for tuberculosis?
  • Can tuberculosis be prevented?
  • Is tuberculosis curable?
  • What is the BCG vaccine?
  • What are the side effects of the BCG vaccine?

Answers to Common Questions about Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is spread through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The symptoms of TB include coughing, chest pain, fever, and fatigue. Diagnosis involves testing sputum samples and using chest X-rays to detect abnormal lung tissue. Treatment involves a combination of antibiotics, taken for a period of 6-9 months. The BCG vaccine is the most effective way to prevent TB, although its effectiveness varies depending on age, geography, and other factors. BCG vaccines can cause minor side effects such as redness, swelling, and sores at the injection site.


1) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Tuberculosis (TB). Retrieved from

2) World Health Organization (2020). Global tuberculosis report 2020. Retrieved from

3) Robert Koch Institute (2019). Tuberculosis in Germany. Retrieved from

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