Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Forgotten Plague: Tuberculosis in America" on PBS "American Experience"

Tonight, PBS, as part of “The American Experience” series, aired “The Forgotten Plague: Tuberculosis in America”, basic link here
In the late 19th century, whole cities in the western US were first populated in large part by tuberculosis patients encourage to migrate for “fresh air”, especially Los Angeles (ironically, given the smog of decades later) and Albuquerque.

In the early 20th century, city health departments had autocratic powers, and would inspect homes for suspected patients, who eventually would be sent to new sanatariums, many of them in upstate New York.  Patients were often placed on mandatory bed rest even when better.

Antibiotic treatments were not developed until the 1940s, and the program described the experiments that led finally to treatments.

Antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis would increase as a result of HIV in the 1980s, but it did not usually get spread to HIV-negative people.
My own father showed evidence of early tuberculosis when his prostate cancer exploded in 1985, as he would die on New Year’s Day 1986 at age 82.  Mother had placed him in my old bedroom because of the TB.  That meant she could have been exposed.  During the last years of her eldercare, I wondered if this could come up if we ever did place her in assisted living or a nursing home.  One cannot go into assisted living with “active” TB even today.  There could be a theoretical risk of exposing caregivers or family at home, but this does not seem to happen very much at all.  Teachers also have to get TB tests, and when a case of TB is reported at a public school, normally everyone is tested (with the forearm scratch test).  But nurses tell me “TB is very hard to catch”.  But it was common in lower income families a century ago.  

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