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Published On September 22, 2005

TECHNOLOGY

Treating TB

What was once treated with a lung compression device is now solved by antibiotics.

Pneumothorax, one of the oldest known surgeries for lung disease, can be traced to the Hippocratic era. But until the nineteenth century, the treatment meant cutting a hole in the patient’s chest and injecting air, often causing infection or even death. Then, in 1882, the Italian physician Carlo Forlanini invented the artificial pneumothorax apparatus. The machine forced air into the chest through a sterilized needle connected to a water manometer, which allowed the physician to accurately measure the pressure and volume of the introduced air and ensure the right amount of lung compression. Patients could visit “pneumo” weekly to have air collapse their diseased lung, pushing together the walls of the tubercular cavities and allowing nature’s healing process—fibrous tissue growth—to take place. The method was tenuous, depending largely on each individual’s body defense system, and was finally superseded in the mid-twentieth century by antibiotics and chemotherapy.

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