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Clear glass spittoon, England, 1831-1900

Spitting was a relatively acceptable social habit until the second half of the 1800s. Unfortunately, the sputum from people with tuberculosis contains the bacteria responsible for causing the disease. Contact with sputum, coughed up from the lungs, could spread the disease. This spittoon was probably used in the home or on hospital wards and would have been disinfected after use.

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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: spittoon

Large containers serving as places to spit. Associated with chewing tobacco.

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.