Tuberculosis Mortality among the Jews of Tunis (Tunisia) in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

Short papers
By Daniel Cattan, Alain Mallet, Josué Feingold, Glenn Robertson


Studies in different countries have revealed lower tuberculosis mortality among Jewish populations than other communities living in the same regions. This pattern was also found in the city of Tunis. This study uses Tunis mortality statistics to examine the finding more closely. It shows that in the first half of the twentieth century, i.e. before the development of antibiotic treatments, tuberculosis mortality was lower among the Jewish than the Muslim, French, Italian and Maltese populations, but that the Jewish population had a higher infant mortality rate than either the Italian or French populations. Over the period 1919-1939, for example, the average annual tuberculosis mortality and infant mortality rates were 81 per 100,000 and 164 per 1,000 respectively in the Jewish population, against 193 per 100,000 and 107 per 1,000, respectively, in the French population. This pattern cannot be accounted for by living conditions, although the role of dietary differences cannot be excluded, as consumption of kosher meat in the Jewish population may have prevented contamination by the bovine tubercle bacillus. Genetic factors are also posited, but none have been identified with certainty.

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