Eva Peron’s life has all the touchstones of high drama. Born in a poor village she left for Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career when she met and married future Argentine President, Juan Peron. No shrinking political violet, she ran the ministries of labour and health. Her life’s story has proven irresistible – spawning endless books, films, television series and the musical Evita.
After fainting at a public event in 1950, it was discovered she had advanced cervical cancer. She died soon after in 1952, aged 33. The basis of cervical cancer is the Human papilloma virus (HPV), which today can be picked by an HPV pathology test. Replacing the pap smear test in 2017, the HPV test can be taken every 5 years.
Vivien Leigh made her name in two of Hollywood’s great mid-century blockbusters, Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. Shortly after starring in Gone with the Wind and marrying Laurence Olivier, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a condition she had recurrent bouts of and which killed her at age 53.
Today, a quarter of the world’s population carry the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria that leads to tuberculosis, but only 5-10% will get sick. Those with weakened immune systems or with already damaged lungs are most susceptible. There are several tests available for tuberculosis which is treatable with a course of medication.
The best-known Zoroastrian in the world – also known as the lead singer and songwriter of rock outfit, Queen – Freddie Mercury died as a result of AIDS in 1991 at 45 after being diagnosed with the condition in 1986. His life was unfortunately just out of sync with the development of HIV medicines, the first experimental AIDS vaccine tested in the US declared safe in 1991.
While Freddie might not have benefitted from early detection of HIV given the medical treatment for HIV was not yet developed commercially, today, anyone else can have an HIV test, and if found positive can seek treatment before it develops into AIDS.
Ultimately nabbed by the United States government for tax evasion and given an 11-year spell in the Atlanta Penitentiary and Alcatraz, Al Capone made his fortune during the Prohibition as a Chicago mobster. It was up like a rocket and down like a stick for Capone. By the ripe age of 33 he was in prison, being released 8 years later.
But his freedom wasn’t what it might have been. At some stage Capone contracted syphilis and upon his release in 1947 was suffering syphilitic dementia. A simple syphilis test for the pathogen Treponema pallidum would have revealed the condition and a course of penicillin would have cured him.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
A workhorse to the end, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was still composing his last masterpiece ‘Requiem’ on his deathbed when he struck a final, sour note, dying at the age of 35, having produced an unbelievable body of work. The cause? As happens in old cases, theories abound, but it’s argued that new evidence points to the cause of death as being kidney damage caused by strep throat.
There was an epidemic of strep throat in 1791. The culprit, the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. A simple Rapid antigen or throat culture test can detect strep throat and then a course of antibiotics is all you need to clear it up. Unless it was death by pork chop, as suggested here. Either way his premature death was a tragic conclusion for Wolfy and the human race.
That the world was deprived of the unique talents of so many people is sad but also points to how far we’ve come in the detection of medical conditions.
‘Today, we’re extremely fortunate that we can pick up on conditions early so that appropriate medical treatment can begin,’ says microbiologist, Dr Petra Derrington.
‘With the developments in testing and medical treatments over the last century or so, conditions that once proved fatal, need not be the tragedies they once were.’