A Healthy Start - Tuberculosis

For much of the 20th century, Tuberculosis (TB) was one of Scotland’s major killers. Incidents increased notably during the Second World War and continued to rise after it. Pulmonary TB killed 50% of sufferers within five years. TB meningitis meant certain death. Long spells were spent in sanatoria, and deliberately collapsing the affected lung was a standard treatment.

I‌mage left: Once effective treatment for TB became available, a major campaign was launched across Scotland to encourage the public to get x-rayed. Dundee took an early lead in the campaign with enthusiastic local support. Thanks to extensive press coverage (and visiting celebrity Frankie Vaughan) the city ended up setting a world record! Courtesy of Dundee Central Library, Local History Department

Hope came in the form of streptomycin followed by PAS and isoniazid, the radical advance in treatment being to give all three drugs together. Suddenly, TB became treatable. Hidden cases were rooted out by hugely successful mass x-ray campaigns. BCG vaccination was introduced and pasteurisation removed TB from milk supplies. Unfortunately, the advent of HIV and the growth of multi-drug resistant TB has led to fresh challenges in tackling this still-formidable disease.

A clear link between smoking and lung cancer was established in a study by Sir Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill in 1954. At that time, well over 50% of British adults smoked. Thinking that the cause of the cancer was likely to be coal fire fumes, car fumes or tarmac, Doll’sfindings took him completely by surprise and he stopped smoking during the study. He lived to be 92.

In Scotland, nothing has caused more ill-health than the cigarette. Passive smoking has assumed much greater significance in recent years, and the banning of smoking in enclosed public places in 2006 shows the government’s intention to confront the issue head-on. 



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