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Tuberculosis History in Louisville

Much of local tuberculosis history revolves around Waverly Hills Sanatorium but that’s not where it ends. We examine the myths and facts of TB and cover an historic but unconventional local treatment for the disease, in this Et Cetera.

According to the online textbook "Digital History", in 1900, more Americans died from tuberculosis than from cancer.

By that century’s end, an estimated 100 million people died from TB. The disease in humans has been traced back to antiquity and has been called consumption and the white plague, among other names.

In 1839 Mammoth Cave was purchased by Louisville physician and entrepreneur Dr. John Croghan, of the Locust Grove Croghans.

Dr. Croghan was not only interested in the extent of the caves there but of their potential to help heal patients suffering from tuberculosis. He thought that the constant temperature and humidity of the caves would benefit TB patients.

In 1841 he allowed some 16 TB sufferers to live at Mammoth Cave, in wooden and stone huts. Ultimately, the experiment ended in failure the in 1843, as some patients died and others became sicklier. Croghan himself succumbed to TB in 1849, but his experiment is recognized for helping to lead the way for control of the disease.

The first sanatorium for treatment of TB opened in Germany in 1854. Louisville’s most recognized sanatorium, Waverly Hills, opened in 1910.

Most of Kentucky’s state TB hospitals included operating rooms and staff who could handle all aspects of TB treatment on site. Natural remedies included lots of fresh air and sunshine for the patients.

With the development of the antibiotic streptomycin in 1946, an effective treatment for TB was finally introduced and eliminated the need for surgical interventions and sanatoria. Waverly Hills closed as a TB hospital in 1961. Hazelwood Sanatorium, another Louisville facility which operated for 64 years, closed in 1971.

TB cases have been on the rise since 1985, due to drug-resistant strains.

In 2008, the World Health Organization estimated that one-third of the global population was infected with TB. According to Metro Government, that year there were only 28 cases of tuberculosis in Jefferson County, for a case rate of 4.4 per 100,000 in the population.

Etc.:

  • Before the Industrial Revolution, TB symptoms - red, swollen eyes, pale skin, extremely low body temperature, weak heart and coughing blood – may have been considered traits of vampirism.
  • According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville," Dr. John Croghan worked toward the funding of the Louisville Marine Hospital (1823), which is now an historical landmark. He served as director of that hospital until 1832.
  • Today, two wooden and stone huts remain at Mammoth Cave from Dr. Croghan’s 1841 TB hospital project.
  • Croghan’s younger brother Charles died of TB, while the two of them were in Europe in 1832.
  • The first TB sanatorium in the United States was Little Red (The Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium, later the Trudeau Sanatorium), in New York. The creation of the sanatorium was the first step against the dreaded disease.
  • According to Wikipedia, "The promotion of Christmas Seals began in Denmark during 1904 as a way to raise money for tuberculosis programs. It expanded to the United States and Canada in 1907 – 1908 to help the National Tuberculosis Association (later called the American Lung Association)."
  • In early 20th century Louisville, visiting nurses were employed to teach African Americans in about tuberculosis. This was seen as a self-help method of controlling the disease. Later African Americans had either their own hospitals or were treated in segregated wings at facilities that treated both whites and blacks. The Red Cross Tuberculosis Sanitarium (1905), established at 1436 S. Shelby in Louisville, served African Americans exclusively.
  • From the Louisville Times, Dec. 5, 1928: "During the World War TB killed more persons than shot and shell."
  • In 1930, the Courier-Journal reported that the African American Hospital and the childrens’ unit at Waverly Hills cost an estimated $212,000 and $153,000 to build, respectively.
  • According to TIME magazine, Jun. 25, 1934, Louisville, Ky. was the first city in the U.S. to try a new system of immunization against TB in children. The vaccine was given to 7,000 local children.
  • Waverly Hills Sanatorium has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983.
Program 502
In this program, "Louisville Life" talks with documentary filmmaker Peter Byck, takes a tour of Waverly Hills Sanatorium and more. (#502)