The crusade against tuberculosis

The crusade against tuberculosis

In 1917, Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenia inaugurated a sanatorium which still has some strange symbols, representing the crusade against tuberculosis. This is his story.

What had in common Alfonso XII, George Orwell and Eleanor Roosevelt? The three were killed by the so-called white plague, a disease already described by Hippocrates in 460 BC The TB disease has caused more damage to the human species, leaving behind a high number of deaths and an indelible mark on history, literature, medicine and art. The cross double bar was chosen as a symbol of the fight against tuberculosis

The memory of the consumption or wasting comes to mind when walking through the old Cantoblanco Hospital (Madrid), a hotel built to treat tuberculosis clinic. At the foot of Mount Valdelatas, the sanatorium was inaugurated by the king Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenia in 1917 in order to accommodate patients with less financial resources. Part of this complex now houses the IMDEA Food, a research institute opens its doors on the occasion of the European Week of Biotechnology.

Dr. Guillermo Reglero, director of the center, said one of the columns brick part of the building. The Cross of Lorraine , drawn in stone, is repeated in every one of the outer pillars of the former sanatorium. An international logo chosen as symbol of the struggle against the white plague in the IV International Congress of Tuberculosis , held in Berlin in 1902.


There Sersiron Gilbert, general secretary of the Federation of French anti- Tuberculosis, proposed adopting the standard that Godfrey of Bouillon, Prince of Lorraine ( Lorraine , in French), used to conquer Jerusalem in 1099. This time the cross was not religious, but purely scientific and Doctors: ending an infectious disease that had killed millions of people. Thus began TB cross .

Social marginalization

The proposal Sersiron would not be formally adopted until 1928, year in which the Council of Unity Against Tuberculosis international official the use of the Double cross bar as a symbol of the fight against tuberculosis. The icon, however, would later be remembered as emblematic of the troops of Charles de Gaulle against Nazi swastika .. The emblem was also used during World War II

Two crosses, two ideologies, one war. The battle for a free France against the invasion of the army of Adolf Hitler eclipsed the use of the cross of Lorraine as a symbol against tuberculosis. The following Ex Libris you can see the propaganda of the French allied troops, fighting for the Cross of Lorraine “crush” -acompañándola swastika with “V” for victory, as seen in the picture -.

Before World War II, the double bar cross represented the efforts of researchers and doctors to cure a disease that had marked the nineteenth century. No wonder the consumption was also known as “the evil of Romanticism” , characterized by a severe cough for more than three-often with blood or sputum-weeks, chest pain, fatigue, fever or night sweats .. The consumption particularly affected the working classes due to lack of hygiene and health

Young people suffering from tuberculosis were surrounded by a mystique, melancholy and sensitivity. At that time, the sadness was a source of inspiration for creative writing at the time. It is also said that the tisis was a kind of “bad inheritance” affecting the rich, the young and women. A mid-nineteenth century, society changes its attitude towards tuberculosis, which become real social outcasts


TB disease was not rich, but especially affecting the poorest neighborhoods where poor hygiene and sanitation promoted the expansion of the bacteria that caused the disease, Mycobacterium tuberculosis . The marginalization of patients reached even affect Frederic Chopin, who had true problems to settle in Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona.

From the moment we cause horror and terror to the population. They declared attacked and convicted of pulmonary consumption, equivalent to the plague in the contagionists concerns of Spanish medicine.

The actual disease

In 1882, microbiologist German Robert Koch a discovery that would forever change the approach to tuberculosis. The identification of Mycobacterium tuberculosis , known popularly as “Mycobacterium tuberculosis” – allowed to reduce some of the stigma that weighed on patients. The consumption was actually an infectious disease, as demonstrated by Koch to isolate the microorganism again and inoculate experimental animals that develop the disease. The discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and the development of streptomycin were two key milestones in the crusade against tuberculosis

In 1890, Koch himself presented the results on the tuberculin , an isolated substance bacterial cultures thought It could cure the disease, but produced large hypersensitivity reactions in patients. The belief that the consumption affect cardiac function and pulmonary circulation subsequently led to the creation of the first tuberculosis sanatorium in the Alps.

In the case of Spain, the first such center was created in the Spa Busot (Alicante), private. The sanatorium pioneer of this type was built in Porta Coeli (Valencia), where the pure air, abundant food and rest as ways to “cure” recommended tuberculosis. However, the drug did not have an effective treatment against infection until the arrival of the streptomycin Selman A. Waksman in 1943 received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine nine years later, although the discovery corresponded to a student of his group, Albert Schatz .


Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

But the real impetus for the fight against tuberculosis in Spain was due to a tragic event . The November 25, 1885, King Alfonso XII in El Pardo died due to the infection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis . The monarch’s death occurred six months before the birth of his third son, Alfonso XIII, who ascended the conscious to combat tuberculosis throne. That was how the new ruler undertook a crusade against the disease, similar to what happened in the US with the history of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the battle against polio. The death of King Alfonso XII promoted the fight against tuberculosis in Spain

Alfonso XIII promoted the creation of centers like Cantoblanco, besides promoting campaigns against tuberculosis to see the situation of regions such as Las Hurd, who visited in the company of Dr. Gregorio Maranon. Thus infection of marginalized became a “real” disease, which was fought with the creation of tens of sanatorios tuberculosis.


Jayma photography ltd (Wikimedia)

Many of these centers, today abandoned like Espuña , they have been paranormal legends , away from any type of scientific evidence. The reality is that the old sanatoriums, created in the crusade against tuberculosis, closed behind the advances in medicine with the development of antibiotics against tuberculosis. But the fight against infectious disease is not over yet. The “cross of life”, as it was also called the Lorraine cross, symbolizing the battle against a bacterium that today has become resistant and MDR. The cross is not over yet, due to the problems of resistance to conventional treatments

According to the latest report from the Organización World Health , nine million people were infected in 2013, and 1.5 million died of the disease. The proportion of resistant tuberculosis was 3.5% in 2013, although in some parts of the world the resistance levels and poor therapeutic results were “very worrying”, according to WHO.

Improved of diagnostic procedures and the development of new treatments, thanks to the biotechnology, will help in this new crusade against tuberculosis. A struggle represented by the emblem of the old Cantoblanco Hospital , which also teaches us that the battle against this pathogen is not over yet


The crusade against tuberculosis
Source: english  
October 14, 2015

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