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Book and Media Reviews
April 13, 2011

Tuberculosis Then and Now: Perspectives on the History of an Infectious Disease

JAMA. 2011;305(14):1491-1492. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.443

The “now” of tuberculosis is worrying, in part because so much is known about its “then.” Historians, social scientists, sociologists, demographers, and physicians have all charted its rise and fall. The once-linear trajectory of medical and social progress was questioned, found wanting, and gradually superseded by a more nuanced series of expositions. Debates on key aspects of the history of tuberculosis made important general contributions to understanding the historical role of disease in society, the diverse role of medical technologies in improving health, and the analysis of provision of social welfare. Much of this history was written during what turned out to be a brief period in which tuberculosis was perceived to represent a historical rather than a contemporary threat. In the 1990s this changed as the reappearance of tuberculosis in the developed world provoked medical and public alarm and the toll of the disease in the developing world was more properly realized.

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