This Month in History – World TB Day

World TB Day, held annually on March 24, is designed to foster awareness of the continuing need to be vigilant to stop the spread of tuberculosis. The day is held in March because Dr. Robert Koch identified the bacteria that cause tuberculosis in March, 1882.

In the United States, the disease is no longer a leading cause of death. But at the turn of the 20th century, tuberculosis was a scourge on the nation. In 1912, more than one in every 1,000 U.S. citizens died of the disease. In 1914, tuberculosis killed more people in North Carolina than any other disease.

In 1908, a group of concerned Wilmington women joined together to help combat tuberculosis. The group formed a local chapter of the American Red Cross and raised money to build a sanitarium in Wilmington for TB sufferers.

Since there were no effective drug treatments for TB at the time, the sanitarium was the state-of-the-art treatment. Doctors recommended rest, fresh air, and good food for patients. These treatments helped some sufferers, but they were neither a fast nor effective cure.

The local Red Cross sanitarium provided free treatment for people with tuberculosis. It was located on wooded land outside the city limits. In 1919, the Red Cross’s 40-bed sanitarium treated 52 patients. Of those, more than one-third died, eight were declared cured, 17 left the sanitarium “much improved,” and seven left “unimproved.”

Through the first half of the twentieth century, it became increasingly possible to diagnose and track TB’s course using X-rays and other tests. The Museum has a collection of 41 medical slides, comprised are mainly of X-rays of tuberculosis patients that came from the local Wrightsville Babies Hospital (1920-1978). The slies—and the box they cam in — were donated to the Museum by a woman who bought them at a sale.

In the 1920s, a (relatively ineffective) form of immunization was developed. But it was not until the 1940s that an effective drug treatment was developed to combat the disease. This drug, called streptomycin was first used on a TB case in 1944. Today, the standard treatment involves the use of four different drugs.

Although TB is not as common in the United States as it once was, it is still a worldwide health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of the people in the world’s population are infected with TB, and every year approximately two million people die of the disease.

In contrast to these sobering worldwide statistics, in 2007, North Carolina had a TB rate of less than four cases per 100,000 people.

View tuberculosis objects from the Museum’s collection including photographs, X-rays and a morbidity map.

Previous Columns

February: David Walker is Honored with a Marker
Two Brothers Honored on One Memorial Stone
Holiday Gifts
A nurse comes home from war
Wartime football takes the bases by storm
Circus Day
Motorboat Racing
Celebrating Independence Day at the Beach
Wilmington Turns 200, June 21, 1939
Laura Grace Cox graduates from Tileston
Saint Marks Turns 100, April 1969
March: Troops Return Home, March 29, 1919
February: Black History Month turns 40
January: Fort Johnston and Fort Caswell are seized, January 8, 1861

Wilmington Morbidity Map
CFM 2004.102.0001
Gift of New Hanover County Health Department
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382