Random Fact: Tuberculosis and Potatoes

Last night, my wife and I made the rare choice to watch live TV. This is a rarity unless it is a sporting event. The benefit of watching DVR’d programs is, of course, the ability to skip commercials.

When forced to watch commercials, I usually tune out, grab a snack, check my phone, etc. The commercials about medications are the worst. Usually about a minute long and use the same formula: Show a middle-aged man or woman with a health problem.  The first twenty seconds describe what these people are going through and what the medication can do for them. The next forty seconds tell you the side-effects.

This is normally where I phase out. Last night, a commercial for a medication to treat tuberculosis came on. While I had the audio of the commercial tuned out, my eyes were focused on the word “tuberculosis.”

I don’t know why I focused on that, but I did. What caught my attention was the first five letters in the word: t-u-b-e-r.

Now, I don’t know anything about tuberculosis other than it can kill people. I think. I believe I had a vaccine for it when I was a little kid. That was the extent of my knowledge before last night.

I thought to myself, “Tuber? A tuber is a potato. I wonder if tuberculosis is related to potatoes?”

I asked that question to my wife. She shrugged in the way that most wives who’ve been married to the same man do after thirteen years who asks silly, random questions like that.

So, I picked up my phone and asked Google. Turned out, I was right.

When doctors autopsied tuberculosis patients, they described finding round, white swellings, especially in and around the lungs. Medical historian Howard Markel describes how those potato-like growths led to the disease being called tuberculosis, from the Latin tuber.

– from Science Friday

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