In the early part of the last century, health officials across the nation were frantically trying to understand the causes and a cure for tuberculosis, one of the deadliest diseases in human history. It turns out tuberculosis (TB) was not only treatable but quite preventable.

According to the PBS series American Experience, "By the dawn of the 19th century, tuberculosis – or consumption – had killed one out of seven of all people that had ever lived."

In the 1800s, it was thought that "rest and a healthful climate" could help "change the course of the disease." Tuberculosis hospitals and sanatoriums opened nationwide.

Healthcare Workers Fight TB In The Inner City
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Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs. Symptoms include chronic cough, blood-containing mucus, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.

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According to American Experience, by 1882, the "discovery of the tubercule baccilum revealed that TB was not genetic, but rather highly contagious." Researchers learned that TB was "somewhat preventable" through good hygiene.

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As recently as the 1930s and '40s, many Americans with tuberculosis lived in isolation in TB wings at hospitals and sanatoriums. There were facilities and classrooms for children with TB, too. Patients often remained at these facilities for years.

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Some TB hospitals and sanatoriums were government-funded, while others were private. There were several of each type right here in Massachusetts.

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The former Lakeville Hospital on Route 105 first opened in 1910 as the Lakeville State Sanatorium, a TB hospital. There were also TB treatment facilities in Fall River and Attleboro.

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The Sassaquin Sanatorium in New Bedford became operational around 1910. My paternal grandmother spent five years as a TB patient at the Sassaquin Sanatorium in the 1930s when my father was just a child.

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Very little is known about the Sassaquin Sanatorium today. I believe it stood on the same property where Union Hospital once stood, and Vibra Hospital is now located. Accurate numbers are difficult to come by, but it is believed many thousands of Massachusetts residents succumbed to tuberculosis.

By the 1950s, advances in medicine, including vaccinations and a greater emphasis on personal hygiene, have almost eliminated tuberculosis throughout most of the industrialized world.

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