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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The "When Tuberculosis Was A Scary Disease" Story

The Rossmere Tuberculosis sanatorium located in Manheim Twp.
It was closed in 1957 and was eventually demolished.
It was an ordinary day.  Leafing through the book "From The Beginning", which was written by C. Nat Netscher and designed and laid out by ... wait a minute, that's my name.  It was back in 2003 that Nat approached me with the idea of writing a book that would tell the history of Manheim Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He would write the book and I would lay out and design the pages for it.  
This snow scene from 1961 shows the Rosemere sanatorium
in the upper-lefthand side behind the one floor Helath and
Welfare Center.  The space is now the Community Services Ctr.
At the time I was working with Jostens Publishing Company to do the Middle School yearbook, so I asked if they could publish the book for us.  What I'm looking at is the result of that endeavor.  Every now and then I pull out the book and look at different sections of the book.  Today I chose Chapter 12 - Health and Safety.  Stories about the police force in the township as well stories on the volunteer fire companies and the ambulance society.  Then I turned the page and saw a photo of the Rossmere Tuberclosis sanatorium which closed in 1957.  At the time I lived about a mile from the building and didn't think much about it.  Actually, I was in Junior High at the time and didn't even realize there was a sanatorium nearby.  Didn't really know what tuberclosis was or how it affected you.  So, in order to tell you about the picture I placed on page 212 of Nat's book in 2003, I need to give you some basic information about Tuberculosis -- or TB as it's commonly called.  It is a contagious infection that usually attacks the lungs, but can spread to other parts of the body such as the brain or spine.  In the 20th century it was the leading cause of death in the United States while today most cases are cured with antibiotics after a 6 to 9 months treatment.  It is spread through the air and is very contagious, but not easy to catch.  There are two forms of TB: Latent TB which your immune system stops from spreading and Active TB which can spread the disease to others.  
Citizens visit the Tuberculosis Society's chest X-ray van in
front of St. James Parish House in downtown Lancaster, PA.
The date is October 1954 and the van spent the next 10
years screening people in Lancaster County for TB.
A few famous people who suffered from the disease who you might recognize are authors Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe as well as musician Frederic Chopin.  In the nineteenth century the concept of keeping TB patients isolated in a sanatorium started when Edward Livingston Trudeau started the first sanatorium in the United States.  Infectious persons were isolated from society and treated with rest and improved nutrition.  The National TB Asso., later known as the American Lung Asso. came into being in 1904.  In 1908 the French scientists Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin grew bacillus in several mediums to decrease their virulence and increase the capacity to produce immunity.  This led to the now famous vaccine called BCG that was introduced in 1921.  
This photo was taken at Lancaster's JP
McCaskey High School in the city.  It was
taken in 1951 when the 10th grade class
was scanned for TB by the American
Lung Association of Lancaster.
In 1944 antibiotics were used against TB for the first time with the discovery of streptomycin.  More effective drugs came along in the 1950's and treatment with rifampicin followed.  One thing I do remember was the TB Society X-ray truck that came around to different locations for screening to see if they could find anyone who might have the disease.  If I remember correctly they might have been at my high school to do chest X-rays on the students.  Anyway, the Rossmere TB sanatorium pictured here came about when the Rossmere Hotel was converted to a TB sanatorium in 1925.  Men were housed in a separate wing with children in another and women in what was at one time the ballroom.  On the second floor were living quarters for nurses and the superintendent while the third floor housed the dietician and the domestics.  When weather permitted, some patients slept outside on the porches since fresh air was therapeutic for people with TB.  Luckily I never knew of the sanatorium until it was demolished or needed the services of it.  TB was a disease that still exists today, but not as it did in the early 1900s.   It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.     

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