Tuberculosis and...Sherlock Holmes: Background information when reading The Remedy

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The Remedy

Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis

by Thomas Goetz

The Remedy by Thomas Goetz X
The Remedy by Thomas Goetz
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 320 pages

    Mar 2015, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Tuberculosis and...Sherlock Holmes

This article relates to The Remedy

Print Review

Did you know?

Schatzalp Sanatorium
  • At its height tuberculosis killed 1 in 7 people
  • According to Thomas Goetz in The Remedy, TB may have been "the most lethal disease in history, having claimed more than a billion lives since it was first identified in ancient Greece"
  • Two-thirds of active cases of TB would end in death
  • TB, like anthrax, is believed to have originated with agriculture about 9,000 years ago: springing from the soil and passing through the vectors of meat and milk
  • The pasteurization process, which kills off bacteria in milk, reduced the spread of TB
  • In the nineteenth century TB was believed to be caused by "miasma" (bad air) or heredity; only later was the cause revealed to be bacterial (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)
  • Through history, TB has also been known by the names consumption, scrofula, Pott's disease, phthisis, and the White Plague
  • Quack cures, such as a "Microbe Killer" potion, were common, and doctors often resorted to drastic surgeries
  • Sanatoriums (in locations as diverse as New Mexico and Switzerland) were the most common means of treatment
  • As a slow, wasting disease, TB was romanticized and associated with artists (Byron famously wrote, "I should like to die from consumption")
  • TB killed many celebrated literary figures including George Orwell, Samuel Johnson, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, the Brontë sisters, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, Robert Louis Stevenson, D. H. Lawrence, and John Keats
  • TB was the subject of the first mass health education campaign; disinfectants and good hygiene practices (such as no spitting in public) prevented the spread of disease
  • In terms of infectious diseases, TB is still the second most deadly (behind only HIV/AIDS)
  • In 1993 the World Health Organization declared TB a worldwide emergency
  • In 2012, 8.6 million people contracted TB, and of those, 1.3 million died; still, these statistics represent a drop in fatality of 45% since 1990
  • Reversing the spread of TB by 2015 was one of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals – the number of people contracting TB is now on the wane, so this goal should be achieved

And about Sherlock Holmes...

  • It was illustrator Sidney Paget who created the enduring image of Sherlock Holmes wearing a deerstalker hat
  • The line "Elementary, my dear Watson" never appears in a Doyle story – it originated in the 1901 play, Sherlock Holmes, created by American actor William Gillette – as did Holmes's pipe
  • Holmes was the original fan-fiction subject, and has been the inspiration for more than 250 movies

Picture of Schatzalp sanatorium in Davos from Wikipedia

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Rebecca Foster

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Remedy. It originally ran in May 2014 and has been updated for the March 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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