Tuberculosis Don’t Kiss Me Sign (Library of Congress)

Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease caused by a particular bacteria which targets the lungs, but which can spread to the brain, spine, and kidneys. The disease is spread through inhalation of droplets that infected individuals have coughed or sneezed. Many of those infected have a latent infection, suffering only minor symptoms.  It may take years for latent TB to fully develop into TB. Symptoms of active TB are much more pronounced, including persistent cough, expectoration of phlegm or blood, chills, fevers, and chest pain. 

In the 1800’s, when TB was common,  it was known by many names – consumption,  because of the way the afflicted wasted away, phthisis, Pott’s Disease, and the White Plague.  In popular culture, reflected in literature, consumption was seen as a romantic disease, sufferers were believed to be of a heightened sensitivity.  The pale skin and slender body associated with tuberculosis began to be seen as a beauty standard, imitated by even healthy women.  

The first sanatorium in America was built in 1884 in Saranac Lake, New York. The facility was built on the premise that fresh air and natural surroundings would aid patients afflicted with tuberculosis. Hundreds of consumptives travelled to the Adirondacks to try to find a cure through fresh air.  Many other TB patients went west to find a cure in the clear, dry air of the Southwest. A sanatorium for TB patients in Auburn existed on Prospect Street for much of the early twentieth century. The building still exists as the Sunnycrest Concrete Co.

Today, tuberculosis is managed through the public health system.  Anyone who works with children is required to take a TB test. There is a vaccine for tuberculosis, but the incidence of the disease in the U. S. is so low that the vaccine is not routinely distributed.  In 2015, there were 9,563 reported cases of tuberculosis in the U.S., an increase of more than 150 from the year before.

Learn More About the Sanatorium at Saranac Lake Here!

Historic Saranac Lake