Covid-19 in 2021 and tuberculosis in 1939

Back in 1939 the advice from Everyone’s Best Friendon how to avoid contracting pulmonary TB eerily reminds us of the Government’s warnings on the dangers of Covid-19 today.tuberculosis sanatorium pic

‘ … the sputum usually contains live tubercle bacilli which may be coughed into the air and inhaled by others. Direct contact with  some other infected person can often be traced when a new case occurs. In a child it is often one of the parents, or some other member of the family who has handed on the disease. Nurses in tuberculosis sanatoria are liable to contract the disease from their patients. In London cases of tuberculosis must be notified, and the tuberculosis officer arranges for their removal from households in which there is known tuberculosis. In France an attempt is being made the raise the resistance of children by inoculations with what is known as the B.C.G vaccine. This vaccine is used to vaccinate the children of tuberculous parents, and other children who are likely to be brought into contact with the disease. The value of this vaccination has not yet been proved as it is still too recent a discovery.

All children from doubtful households, as for instance where one parent has had tuberculosis, should be examined at intervals, and if the tuberculin test which is made to discover susceptibility to the disease is positive, the child should be removed to some place of safety.  

However, we at Jot HQ are a little puzzled at the statement that ‘the prevention and cure’ of TB ‘have been taken well in hand ‘.

The only treatments for TB at this time were the hundreds of sanatoria around the country where patients might receive surgical interventions that included artificial pneumothorax, thorplasty, plombage and phrenic nerve crush, all of which had very limited success. In 1937, there was nothing ‘in hand ‘to prevent the premature death at just 31, of the American Frances Galt, the first wife of Geoffrey Grigson, editor of New Verse. Although the couple were estranged at the time of her death, Grigson’s later recollections of her prompted a moving poem, ‘A Face Observed ‘ ( The Isles of Scilly, 1946):


Gayness, lance of your eyes—-eyes I shall not see,

Coolness of light on your skin—skin I shall not feel,

Hair too curved like the sea—hair I shall not free.

Among the grey million of strangers gone, O face

Bent slightly to me


Throat column I shall not see tighten again,

Shoulders I shall not watch sloping under your frock,

Hardy or Hafiz you could have stroked with pain

Cool like a clear colonnade, calm girl who shone

Clearer than air in the rain.

Throughout the ‘forties George Orwell, who had worked with Grigson at the BBC, was also struggling with TB, but there was no help for him either, despite the discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin in 1945. By the time this had been developed as a therapy for TB patients the author of 1984 had succumbed in 1950 to the ravages of this terrible disease. Over the past year of Covid-19 many writers, academics and scientists have died of Covid-19, and doubtless many tributes have been paid to them, as Grigson paid tribute to his late wife. [R.M.Healey]


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