3 old-fashioned diseases making a comeback

Diseases such as consumption and whooping cough sound like they belong in 19th century novels, bringing down a poor heroine or lovesick poet. But several diseases most people think are gone for good from the United States are still around — or even making a comeback.

Consumption: Tuberculosis, once known as consumption, is an ancient disease that reached its peak between the end of the 18th and the end of the 19th centuries. Though largely gone from the United States after a surge in the 1980s and 1990s, the disease made its largest reappearance in 20 years just two months ago in Florida’s homeless shelters. Experts think the disease has become more difficult to control because it has moved into closed-off groups who often live in close quarters, such as the homeless shelters and prisons.

Whooping cough: This disease, whose official name is pertussis, starts with symptoms of a bad cold then develops into the characteristic harsh cough. The year 2010 saw the most pertussis cases — 27,550 — since 1959. Infants who have not yet been vaccinated are the most contagious group, and experts think anti-vaccine campaigns as well as changes in the vaccine may have something to do with the recent boost in numbers.

Syphilis: Al Capone died of this sexually transmitted disease that first appeared in the 15th century, and historical figures like Oscar Wilde and Henry VIII are thought to have had it. Though largely gone from the United States, numbers have been creeping back up since 2000. Experts think one reason may be that people just aren’t as aware of it (it’s not on those STD slideshows shown in health class anymore) and don’t know that it can be contracted through oral sex.