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Three tuberculin syringes in glass tubes, Europe, 1950-1990

Stored in glass tubes to keep the needles germ free and protect handlers from the sharp points, these syringes would be used to inject tuberculin into the skin. Tuberculin is used to see whether a person has been exposed to or has immunity to tuberculosis. This particular tuberculin test is known as the Mantoux test – named after its originator, Charles Mantoux (1877-1947), a French physician. If after four to seven days the skin shows no reaction, the patient is at risk of contracting the disease and needs to be vaccinated with the BCG vaccine.

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    Glossary: immunity

    The condition of being immune, the protection against infectious disease conferred either by the immune response generated by immunisation or previous infection or by other nonimmunologic factors.

    Glossary: tuberculin

    A protein extracted from the tuberculosis causing bacterium. It is used in tests to determine if a person has been exposed to the bacteria and is in danger of coming down with the disease.

    Glossary: sterilisation

    To make an object free of live bacteria or other micro-organisms. Usually achieved by heat or chemical means.

    Glossary: syringe

    An instrument used for injecting or withdrawing fluids. The open end of the syringe may be fitted with a hypodermic needle for injection into the bloodstream.

    Glossary: tuberculosis

    An infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium first identified by Robert Koch in 1882. The disease usually affects the lungs first, and is accompanied by a chronic cough.