It was a dreaded disease that attacked the respiratory system and could cause death.
At the beginning of the 20th century, tuberculosis kills 1 in 7 people in the United States and Europe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tuberculosis is an infectious airborne disease that normally attacks the lungs and symptoms include a hard, bloody cough, chest pain and fatigue.
Health officials have been looking for ways to fight the disease in the absence of drugs to treat it. One of their main care: fresh air.
Also in the Harrisburg area, doctors and civic groups have organized efforts to treat and prevent the disease, especially in children.
As we remain in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, here is a look at some of the early 20th-century efforts in central Pennsylvania to tackle childhood tuberculosis, according to newspaper accounts at the time.
Camp Christmas Seal
One of the first efforts to treat tuberculosis in central Pennsylania was the Children’s Fresh Air Sanitarium, according to George Lauman Laverty in his “History of Medicine in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania”.
The sanatorium, run by women in Harrisburg, operated for several years on a farm near Oberlin in Swatara Township starting in 1901. The Visiting Nurse Association maintained the camp, which was held in the summer for the children. 12 years old and under.
The idea of a children’s summer camp to prevent tuberculosis resurfaced when the Harrisburg Tuberculosis Society, founded in 1905, established Camp Christmas Seal in 1928. As the name suggests, the camp was funded by the sale of Christmas Seals, which were stamps sold in post offices to raise funds for efforts to fight tuberculosis. The American Lung Association operates the program today.
Children who had been exposed to tuberculosis or were underweight attended the camp, located on a converted farm about 3 km north of Highspire in Lower Swatara Township. The camp began admitting black children in 1932, but placed them in separate quarters.
In addition to fresh air, the camp provided healthy food, sports and plenty of rest, as well as life skills, such as manners and neatness.
As a camp director told The Patriot in 1950, the goal was to forge body, character and personality.
The children who gained the most weight received a medal or certificate.
Camp Christmas Seal continued until 1952 when the Tuberculosis Company sold the property.
Health officials have also applied fresh air treatment to education through outdoor schools.
The schools, originating in Germany, had large open windows expose children to air. In 1912, Harrisburg established its first open-air school in the old Lochiel School building at 12th and Magnolia Street. The following year he opened a second such school on Fifth and Seneca streets.
“Open air” meant open air. Schools did not close windows in winter; students simply bundled up. The Star-Independent reported that during the winter of 1914-15 the average temperature in the Lochiel building was 41 degrees, dropping to 30.
The district decided to combine the two schools into a new building designed by prominent Harrisburg architect Charles Howard Lloyd on Fifth and Seneca streets.
But before the new school could open in the fall of 1918, Harrisburg officials turned it into an emergency hospital. during the Spanish flu pandemic. Doctors there treated more than 200 patients.
The Evening News described the daily schedule of the Open Air School in 1921: “From 9 am to 12 pm, lesson; then lunch, which is provided free of charge to patient-students. After lunch, which is over at 1 p.m., the children go to the bathroom where they bask in comfortable steam chairs with plenty of fresh air, or sleep for an hour and a half, and at 3:30 p.m. they are dismissed. .
Lunch included food, like ice cream, which was apparently a cut above the regular public school fare.
“(L) the stories that some students tell their neighborhood mates make the healthy almost wish they were sick, so that they could indulge in the good things provided in the outdoor school,” reported The Evening News. The students also took a shower at school every week.
In the 1950s, as cases of tuberculosis declined, the school housed special education classes for students with physical disabilities.
In 1963, the district converted the building into a school for its nursing assistant training program. He named the building in honor of Dr. CEL Keen, founder of the Polyclinic Hospital and former chairman of the school board. Naming the building after Keen was fitting in another way: his advocacy played a key role in persuading the school board to establish an outdoor school in the early 1900s.
In the 1940s, health experts have discovered streptomycin, the first effective drug against tuberculosis. The discovery, which sparked Dr Selman Waksman a Nobel Prize in 1952, led to the decline of the disease in the United States, although it was not eradicated. About 200 cases in Pennsylvania and nearly 9,000 cases nationwide were reported in 2019, according to the State Department of Health.
Joe McClure is editor-in-chief for The Patriot-News. Email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter: @ jmcclure59.
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