Not until the antibiotic streptomycin was isolated from the soil fungus Streptomyces griseus in 1943 was there any hope of eradicating the devastating disease caused by M. tuberculosis. Yet, after a few months of this treatment, patients often regressed, as the organism selected for resistance to the antibiotic. Improvement was noted, however, when patients were administered para-aminosaliclic acid (PAS) combined with the streptomycin. Then, in 1953, the revolutionary discovery of isoniazid introduced the global “wonder drug” for TB patients. As sanatorium treatment declined, the advent of antibiotic therapy proclaimed the beginning of the disappearance of the disease. By 1960, many sanatoria had closed and the combined antibiotic therapy of streptomycin, PAS, and isoniazid (given daily for a year) was declared a 100% success. Rifamycin (a rifampin derivative) was followed by pyrazinamide, ethambutol, cycloserine, and ethionamide as the antibiotics that served as “second-line” treatment.
Although the fear of transmission to other patients and staff members continued, hospitals were now able to care for patients formerly sent away for sanatorium care. No longer separated for months or years from their homes and families, they benefited from a shorter recovery period.