Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 1882, Robert Koch, a German physician, revolutionized how the world perceived tuberculosis. Through experiments and scientific study, Koch found that a tiny bacterium no greater than 1/25,000th of an inch was the cause of one of mankind's greatest killers. His findings brought tuberculosis - known as TB or consumption - from the depths of the unknown into understanding. Prior to Koch's findings, it was universally believed that people were born with a predisposition to TB. If you had the disease, you were perceived to be of good and gentle character. However, with the coming of the industrial revolution, working and living in close and unsanitary conditions brought the disease to the poor and to the masses. With Koch's 1882 findings and no cure, tuberculosis soon became unfashionable and frightening.Tuberculosis can thrive in many organs, but primarily strikes the lungs. With inflamed tissue came cough, fever, weight loss and blood-spitting. Physicians could only prescribe rest and fresh air in a favorable climate. Sanitariums to combat tuberculosis were formed throughout the Western United States. On Jan. 1, 1887, the Aspen Daily News newspaper called Glenwood Springs "the great sanitarium." In this declaration, the sanitarium was not a specific hospital, but instead the town itself. A regime of rest, fresh air, and hot mineral baths advertised help to the consumptive in Glenwood Springs.John Henry "Doc" Holliday came in May 1887. Holliday's own uncle, a physician, advised him to seek help through the west's climate. Upon that advice, Holliday sought the west's mineral waters, first in Las Vegas, N.M., and finally in Glenwood Springs. Neither climate nor water helped. Doc Holliday lost his battle with tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs on Nov. 8, 1887.Many consumptives came to Glenwood Springs seeking relief. The Schwarz funeral records chronicle those who succumbed to the disease: 22-year-old Mary Laird, who died in 1890; Leadville piano tuner William Krell, aged 35, who died in 1891; Nebraska native Elmer Erickson, aged 22, who died in 1903; Martha Hunsinger, aged 31, who died also in 1903, leaving behind a young son and a husband. All sought hope and a cure that would take several more years for discovery.That cure came in the 1940s with the discovery of antibiotics. While the incidents of tuberculosis dropped in the decades following, recent events prove that the disease continues to exist. "Frontier Diary" is provided to the Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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