Invincible Microbe

by on September 4th, 2012
Invincible Microbe Cover Image

From 500,000 years ago to today, Jim Murphy and Alison Blank explore hardy tuberculosis in Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-ending Search for a Cure. In addition to the skeleton of a 500,000 year-old young male in Western Turkey, depictions in art and literature establish its widespread existence throughout human history around the world. Because of the microscopic nature of the disease, it was not until 1880 that its cause was discovered. The result was a long history of cruel and ineffective treatments until some success with sanitoriums in the 1800s and then, finally, in 1943 a sick chicken led to the discovery of streptomycin.

As well as the process of scientific discovery, the social impact of tuberculosis is given extensive treatment by Murphy and Blank. The poor were often denied treatment, but campaigns to improve sanitation conditions in cities were beneficial to the poor. TB even played a role in early battles over Mexican immigration to California and the American Medical Association’s membership restrictions and their mostly successful attempts to close African American medical schools.

Despite the record of progress in the fight against TB, the threat of drug-resistant strains of TB means it continues to threaten today’s world making this an important read for current as well as historical interest. Fortunately, the ongoing fight to treat and diagnose TB is getting help many quarters including the fifteen -pound Gambian pouched rat that can successfully sniff out tuberculosis bacilli!

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