zach charlop-powers

tuberculosis NGRAMS

Wed Apr 22, 2015

As a quick followup on my last post I wanted to see how the interest in an infectious disease like tuberculosis changes over time. We saw the Pubmed changes peaking in the 1940’s dropping until about 1980 and picking up interest thereafter. What if we compare that to the public awareness of tuberculosis as viewed by their word frequency using Google ngrams? We do not see agreement here: the word tuberculosis peaks in the 1910’s and in the early 1940’s and drops off.

ngrams lets you search by language so I also looked up tuberculosis in a few different languages to see their distribution. Interesting - I would have thought of the German or French distribution to be what we would have seen - a strong peak in the early 1900’s followed by a drop off when basic public health measures would have helped reduce disease incidence. I would also have expected a drop off in the 1950’s following the introduction of streptomycin and the all-but-eradication of TB in the US. The peak in the Italian words is interesting - was there a major outbreak of TB in the 1950’s leading to an spike in cultural awareness (and therefore book-words) in the 1960’s?






A cursory google search leads to a few references about the concern for treating/managing TB post WWII. The following snippet is from Spitting Blood: could the hesitance to use the BCG vaccine in Italy have led to increased TB incidence? Something to look into at a future date as there should be some epidemiological data that can answer this question.

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