Tuberculosis was once the leading cause of death in the United States. It may have been around 3 million years; it still kills people today. TB can infect people of all ages, as it did Art Holmstrom. He was a 17-year-old valedictorian-hopeful (Section 5 of Open Window.) My father, too, may have had active tuberculosis. When he lost his eyesight due to a mysterious eye infection, doctors thought it might have been caused by tuberculosis of the eye. That is not a surprise. He had worked as a janitor at the Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Like most of the employees, he tested positive for the tubercle bacillus.
Not all tuberculosis becomes active. When it is latent, the immune system keeps the germs suppressed. If immunity is compromised by another illness or, perhaps, a fall or injury, the disease can become active. Years ago, tuberculous patients went away to sanatoriums. There, doctors tried to treat their disease. In 1943, Selman Waksman led a team to develop streptomycin. It was the first effective antibiotic against tuberculosis. Once this and other drugs successfully treated the disease, so many patients recovered and went home that eventually there was no need for TB sanatoriums. The Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium closed at the end of 1952.
By the 1970s, many experts considered tuberculosis nearly eradicated. But today, one person in four in the world is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and there are now drug-resistant forms of the disease.