Tonight at 8 pm PBS American Experience will feature an episode called “The Forgotten Plague: Tuberculosis in America.” Tuberculosis was the deadliest killer in human history prior to 1900. In fact, TB (then sometimes called Consumption) killed about 14% of all the people who ever lived prior to 1900. TB rifled through the US at the turn of the century, sometimes taking out entire communities, especially in cities with crowded tenement housing.
The battle against TB in the 20th century required a multi-sectoral approach – including interventions in social habits, economic development, housing, science and medicine, and especially public health. Taken as a whole, the list of interventions that ended up quelling TB applied the principles of population health.
The public health battle against TB had a profound and long-lasting impact on the country. This episode promises to be a good one. Try to watch.