Direct Link to Latest News


November 22, 2020


A reader recalls another pandemic, Tuberculosis, which puts COVID in perspective.
In 2018, there were more than 10 million cases of active TB which resulted in 1.5 million deaths.[7] This makes it the number one cause of death from an infectious disease.[13] The number of new cases each year has decreased since 2000.[1] About 80% of people in many Asian and African countries test positive while 5-10% of people in the United States population test positive by the tuberculin test.[14] Tuberculosis has been present in humans since ancient times.[15] Wikipedia

Famous people who died prematurely from TB include Henry David Thoreau, D.H. Lawrence, Keats, Chopin, Vivien Leigh...

By Don

I was born in the United States in 1955. I cannot watch television or read a newspaper without seeing articles about COVID-19. It is currently in the spotlight and dominates the news. However, there have been other pandemics that claimed many more lives in the US until fairly recent times. One of them that affected my family was tuberculosis.

When I was about two-years-old I remember waving goodbye to my father as he was being driven away. I didn't know why or where to until I was older. He had tested positive for tuberculosis at his doctor in Seattle and was going back to the sanitarium in Walla Walla, WA.

Back in 1939 he had enlisted in the Coast Guard and served in WW2 guarding the waterfront in Portland, Oregon. It was there he met my mother. His role in protecting shipping from sabotage and other criminal activity was a good background for a career in law enforcement. He got married and had a daughter and eventually three sons.

He was very good at his job and quickly advanced. However, during his time in the Coast Guard, his first assignment was aboard a lightship marking the entrance to the Columbia River. Living aboard a ship in close quarters for months can put people at risk for transmittable diseases. 

Years later when he developed tuberculosis it was determined he was exposed to it aboard the ship as others on the ship came down with the disease. My mother and three-year-old sister were told he was going to die. He was taken to the sanitarium in Walla Walla to live out his remaining days. Luckily he was extremely strong and they were developing new cures and drugs. I wouldn't be here otherwise.

Tuberculosis never completely goes away. Periodically he had to report to the doctor in Seattle to spit into a bottle. The bacteria lay dormant in the lungs and if he tested positive he had to go back to the sanitarium to be isolated from family and others. That happened when I was very young.

TB does more than kill an infected person. Although he survived, he was never healthy enough to return to law enforcement. Prior to his sickness he was a detective and had a goal to be a US Marshall. Instead, he found work painting boats and houses. On the freeway going towards Seattle, there is a house that my mother would point to. They had it built just before my father got sick, and had to give it up.

My father rarely touched me or my siblings. He was afraid of transmitting TB to us.

TB was no respecter of person or position. Back then a lot of people believed it was inherited and I was told my grandfather blamed my grandmother for the "Irish" disease. I recently started researching my family roots and my grandmother's family lost very many people to TB. They were young people, business owners, Catholic Priests all taken by this deadly disease.

My father eventually died in 1985 from another illness. A couple of years later my mother met another man who was from Idaho and was widowed.  They spent their remaining years together. As a young man, he was diagnosed with TB and went to a sanitarium. His story was very similar to my father's.

Today you rarely hear about TB. A few years ago you heard it was making a comeback in the US mainly from illegal immigrants. Worldwide it is still a major killer. Far more people die from it than COVID. It has not been eradicated.

It has wiped out many indigenous peoples worldwide.  In the US and Canada, it has killed many native people. It has destroyed entire villages.  But despite the facts, COVID stays in the spotlight.

I sure many people reading this have similar stories and their families have been affected as mine was. I would encourage them to tell how TB affected their families and loved ones.

Scruples - the game of moral dillemas

Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at