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Infection due to Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been recognized since antiquity. Mycobacterial DNA has been identified in Egyptian mummies dating back to 3000 bce. Hippocrates described tuberculosis or “phthisis” as a great plague for mankind—and a challenge for physicians. The disease later became epidemic among the urban poor during the 19th century, with industrialization, poverty, overcrowding, and poor nutrition contributing to the sharp rise in cases. Closed windows in cool climates also facilitated person-to-person spread of the bacterium first described by Robert Heinrich Koch in 1882. An estimated 20% of all deaths in Europe were secondary to tuberculosis between the late 1800s and 1930s. Although the incidence of tuberculosis has dropped dramatically, the disease remains a leading cause of infection-related death worldwide, with 1.3 million deaths attributed to tuberculosis in 2012.
Malani PN, Prager RL. Journey in Thick Wood: ChildhoodHenry Norman Bethune. JAMA. 2014;312(14):1380-1382. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.13198