Coronavirus today – TB yesterday – health threats of yesteryear!

Today our annual family reunion to be held as ever in August was called off. Getting cousins together from all over the world was deemed to be too much of a health threat. And with so many of my relatives aged over 60 – the risk of the coronavirus was just too high for our family.

All of which made me think about the health threats that our ancestors faced in decades and centuries gone past. In the 1940s, my grandfather (mother’s father) died of TB. Somebody walked into his auction house one day and coughed on him. And what followed was four years in bed spitting blood before he passed away.

Coronavirus presents a threat to many families but what health threats did our family face in the past?
In the 1930s, my grandfather visits my grandmother at a sanatorium

His wife, my grandmother, had a suspected case of TB and was sent to a sanatorium. I have a photograph of my grandfather – before he contracted TB – calling to her through the railings. Presumably he wasn’t allowed anywhere near. Ironically, she didn’t have TB and staged a full recovery – while he contracted it later and died.

FIND OUT MORE: Plague in 16th century Spain!

Thanks to Ancestry.com – I found out that other relatives died of TB. One Irish cousin who emigrated to Texas in the very early 20th century for a better life ended up dying of what used to be called “consumption”. That word tended to cover a range of chest-related complaints. If you’ve ever read a Victorian novel, there’s always somebody confined to bed dying slowly of this mysterious condition called “consumption”.

The man who painted this died of Spanish flu

And then there was that great scourge of the post-First World War world – Spanish flu. My grandfather’s sister died in the 1920s as a young woman and Spanish flu was more than likely the culprit. This was a grim type of flu that led sufferers to bleed through the nose, mouth and anus and finally to drown in their own bodily fluids as their lungs clogged up. Famous victims included the artist Gustav Klimt.

DISCOVER: Why were bodies de-fleshed in the Middle Ages?

In more recent times, I remember the painful period of people dying from HIV/AIDS. At a dinner party I threw at my flat in about 1992, I was told to wash the salad repeatedly because one of our guests already had complications and was very vulnerable to any infections. This was before the drugs got a whole lot better.

Whether our family trees will become peppered with deaths from Coronavirus is yet to be seen. I’m an eternal optimist so I hope not. But only the future will tell.

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