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Blue glass sputum bottle, England, 1871-1920

Sputum bottles were used by people with tuberculosis to cough sputum into. The foul-smelling sputum contains the bacteria responsible for causing the disease. Contact with sputum, coughed up from the lungs, could spread the disease. The blue glass bottle would have been cleaned and disinfected after use. This example has a scale in cubic centimetres moulded on to the side, perhaps to measure how much sputum a patient produced daily. This may have been to record how the person’s treatment was progressing.

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Glossary: sputum bottle

used to safely dispose sputum and spit from tuberculosis patients

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.

Glossary: bacteria

Micro-organisms which can cause disease but have an important role in global ecology.

Glossary: sputum

Material coughed up from the chest and throat. Its characteristics (colour, texture, etc.) often provide important information affecting the diagnosis of respiratory disease.