The great white plague (tuberculosis) is a new and modern destroyer of population, claiming more victims than any other disease, more even than the plagues of the Middle Ages. It is said that every seventh death is due to this infection, and that in the working age, fifteen to forty-five, it kills twenty-five per cent., or cripples them: 10,000.000 people now living in the United States are doomed to this death. Yet we are evolving an immunity with the greatest rapidity. The disease did not exist probably among primitive men because they were too isolated and lived in the open air. With civilization came crowding into houses, and the contagion could be easily carried from one to another. Few, if any, escape infection now, and the susceptible die, while the most resistant recover, to transmit their fortunate ability. We arc already so resistant that a large percentage recover. Naegali states that ninety-eight per cent, of corpses dead of other diseases show evidence of cured tuberculosis. The death rate has diminished sixty-six per cent, in the last fifty years, and in time it will be as harmless as measles, but it will have to destroy its billions and billions of susceptibles before this stage is reached. Consequently, savages are very susceptible to this disease and melt away as soon as it is introduced among them, particularly if they are crowded into civilized density. The Hawaiians are said to have decreased from 100,000 in 1836, to 30,000 to-day, chiefly from tuberculosis.
The history of the evolution of the house, as brought out by Dr. Geo. M. Gould, leaves little doubt that the habit of crowding into these primitive shelters caused the evolution of the tubercle bacillus from some other harmless organism, and that the disease is only a few thousand years old. Moreover, those who have been most confined to houses - the Jews - have suffered the greatest mortality, but have evolved the greatest immunity through survival of the fittest - an immunity which they promptly lose if they live in denser crowds than they are fitted for.
In the enormous literature created by the anti-tuberculosis crusade, there is scarcely a word as to the fact that this disease has existed as a plague only a very short time, and is already disappearing. Prior to the nineteenth century houses were crude, open to the air and unheated. People lived more in the open, and consumption was a negligible factor in killing us off. Only after we began building tighter houses, and warmed them, did we invite the disease. Studies of American families have shown them to have been healthy and strong while living in log huts, so open that snow drifted on the beds, but by the middle of the nineteenth century, when prosperity caused the erection of warmed houses, the families began to melt from consumption. The mortality also rose with the evolution of modern cities, during the middle of the century. The plague, therefore, is in great part due to the crowding made possible by the food supplies of America. Moreover, it must run its course, as the poor cannot possibly obtain the cure. Imagine a father whose wages are ten dollars a week, and who has four children, furnishing the sick one with eggs at forty cents a dozen and milk at ten cents a quart. Overpopulation causes the disease and prevents its cure. Even charity cannot cure them all - there is not wealth enough for the purpose - and even if they are cured, they must relapse upon return to work. Infection is still a sentence of death for most of the poor.