Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases, lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacterium.
Spread through the open air when people with the active infection cough, sneeze, or otherwise transmit their saliva, the TB disease typically attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, TB caused the most widespread public concern as an endemic disease of the urban poor.
And, after finding it contagious in the 1880s, this fatal disease was added to the list of notifiable diseases in Britain and other countries, and aggressive campaigns began to ban spitting in public places.
But, prior to the introduction of antibiotic streptomycin in 1946, the only treatments for this horrific disease were sanatoriums and surgical interventions.
Here in Pasco County we had the Florida Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which, according to Historic Places of Pasco County, had its beginnings in the summer of 1911 and is believed to be the first TB sanatorium in Florida.
Located about one mile west of the once prominent railroad community of Trilby, the Florida Tuberculosis Sanatorium was the brainchild of former assistant state health officer and resident doctor Hiram O. Byrd.
When construction of his sanatorium commenced in 1911, Dr. Byrd was already receiving patients inflicted with the consumptive TB disease—these early patients cared for under a big tent tended by nurse Mamie Hancock.
However, offering this primitive open-air care didn’t detract from the doctor’s greater goal of building a magnificent facility.
With its Victorian appearance, according to advertisements, the roomy, two-story hospital itself was constructed with a home-like atmosphere, wrap around porches, electricity, running water, and a special system of ventilation.
This spacious setting provided patients with a peacefully quiet retreat where they could rest both physically and mentally without distraction from visitors and talkative neighbors—this rest a key factor in early treatment.
The sanatorium also maintained a large vegetable garden, poultry farm, and dairy which provided ailing patients with a healthy supply of pure, fresh vegetables, eggs, milk, and poultry.
And, for the more advanced open-air treatments involving rigorous exercise, patients had their freedom of the sprawling 160 acres that surrounded the sanatorium and devoted to the gardens, groves, parks, and wooded landscapes.
In January 1914, Dr. Byrd partnered with George T. Butler and Trilby mayor Dr. William G. DeVane to formally charter and incorporate the Florida Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
According to incorporation records, with a capital stock of $50,000 divided into 500 shares with the par value of $100, DeVane became the charter’s first president, while Byrd served as the company’s secretary, treasurer, and general manager.
Along with their charter, the sanatorium was also given the power to purchase and operate drug stores, which gave them the ability to buy, sell, import, export, and sell any and all pharmaceutical goods, drugs and medications.
But, one noted feature was the charter provision that allowed the sanatorium to conduct and carry on a training school for nurses.
With the power to prescribe a curriculum and grant diplomas upon graduation, it remains unclear if the school was ever established or if any nurses made it through the ranks to graduation.
In 1914, perhaps to help promote the sanatorium, Byrd also offered free bed space to the Florida Federation of Woman’s Clubs in recognition for their loyal friendship in the cause of reducing tuberculosis. In writing to the club women Byrd said,
“The aim is not only to cure patients but to send them out to teach others the gospel of right living and thus preventing tuberculosis.”
The need for treatment of the TB disease was so great in Florida that the sanatorium quickly grew to prominence.
According to the Dade City Banner, patients as far away as Miami and Sanford were brought to the hospital for advanced treatments.
But, some treatments weren’t so successful and in the spring of 1916, Byrd was called to testify in the libel suit Chattanooga Medicine Company vs. American Medical Association.
According to the National Drug Clerk and trial testimony, the suit stemmed from an article published by the A.M.A. regarding the alcohol content of a woman’s medication called Wine of Cardui, manufactured by the Chattanooga Medicine Company.
During his testimony, Byrd spoke of two female patients who died after being discharged from his care at the sanatorium, one within only a few days.
At about the same time the lawsuit was underway, the Florida Tuberculosis Sanatorium caught fire and burned to the ground ending the short era of Pasco’s only TB hospital.
By December 1917, Byrd was looking to move on and advertised the sale of his Trilby general practice in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
According to Historic Places of Pasco County, Byrd then served with the U.S. Army during WWI and never returned to Trilby.
And, while the treatments of rest, food, and open-air activities might have proved unsuccessful in some early treatments of TB, it was the persistent studies of doctors like Byrd that allowed us to learn more about the advanced levels of the disease.
And, you might be surprised to learn that the country’s last freestanding, operational tuberculosis sanatorium is located here in Florida—the A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana—although treatments are much different than times past.
Quick Hits abour\t T.B.:
Today’s concerns about TB might be greater then ever.
According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O), one-third of the world's population is believed to have been infected with tuberculosis and new infections occur at a rate of about one per second.
In 2010 alone, the W.H.O. reported there were 8.8 million new cases and 1.5 million deaths from the devastating disease.
According to the W.H.O. website, “Reports of tuberculosis (TB) cases with severe patterns of drug resistance are increasing.”
At a recent meeting in Geneva, “the group urged the global TB community to make greater efforts to prevent drug resistance and scale up provision of appropriate care and management to avoid a scenario where TB becomes incurable.”