Denver hospital has long history of treating TB
DENVER – The hospital caring for the Georgia attorney with a rare strain of tuberculosis ranks among the best in the nation for research and treatment of the disease; it was born in an age in which thousands suffering from “consumption” trekked to Colorado’s high, dry air in hopes of a cure.Andrew Speaker, 31, arrived at Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center on Thursday. He was quarantined last week after his return from his European honeymoon, in the first such action taken by the federal government since 1963.In the 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands flocked to Denver and Colorado Springs, believing their illness could be cured in part by the state’s fresh air. Tuberculosis went by the name “consumption” in those days, because its symptoms consumed those who had it. Denver’s first hostel for TB patients opened in 1860, a year after the city’s founding.The need to treat these patients, especially those who spent their last pennies on a one-way train ticket, eventually led to National Jewish’s opening. The hospital has since treated patients with lung diseases from around the world, including survivors of a World War II concentration camp who contracted TB.TB patients who sought a Colorado cure included gunslinger Doc Holliday, who died of the disease in 1887.Others’ names adorn street signs and town names around the state, including former Denver Mayor Robert Speer and Spencer Penrose, who helped found Colorado Springs as a health mecca.In the 1800s, Colorado competed with other western states to lure TB patients and their families, seeing them as a way to boost their populations and economies, said Dr. Charles Scoggin of the Center of the American West.Colorado gained an edge in part because the railroads advertised it widely, Scoggin said. “It was classic Western boosterism,” said Scoggin, formerly of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.As understanding of how TB was spread – and the number of patients seeking treatment – grew, many indigent people who couldn’t afford care were left to wander Denver streets. Laws were passed outlawing spitting on city streets, and some officials even proposed putting bells around the necks of tuberculosis patients.One reason Colorado is good for tuberculosis patients is its thin air with lower concentrations of oxygen, since TB bacteria spread more easily when there is lots of oxygen in the lungs, Scoggin said. That understanding led to methods of reducing oxygen flow to TB patients’ lungs, and some of those techniques may be used on the 31-year-old man at National Jewish.In the early 20th century, many TB patients – including those at National Jewish and other hospitals – slept on porches. Many two-story homes in older sections of Denver were built for TB patients and their families and still have screened porches and second-floor sleeping balconies.Speaker’s treatment will be different. He’ll likely spend several weeks in a drab hospital room with a high-tech vent and an ultraviolet light that kills bacteria as it is sucked out of the room. His only view of the outdoors will be the wall of a building, a patch of grass, and some patio tables and chairs on the ground below. His wife, who is not staying at the hospital, is permitted in his room and he will be allowed to have visitors, but they will be advised to wear face masks, doctors said.Speaker, who was flown from Atlanta to Denver on Thursday accompanied by federal marshals, was being kept in one of five isolation rooms, which are in their own cluster with a nurse’s station. There are no plans to keep an armed guard outside the door, but police will be called if the man tries to leave, said Dr. Charles Daley, head of the infectious disease division.The rooms in the cluster are similar to typical hospital rooms, and there are no special access protocols or locked doors.Normally, patients with similar diagnoses – Speaker is believed to have a low level of TB in his system – would be allowed to leave the room while in the hospital. But doctors plan to keep him in the room for the immediate future until they can perform more tests, officials said.Over the years, National Jewish came to specialize in respiratory, immune and allergic disorders. Once supported by the national Jewish organization B’nai B’rith, the hospital is not affiliated with any religion. U.S. News & World Report has ranked it the nation’s top respiratory hospital for nine straight years.Since 2000, the onetime sanitarium has treated two other patients with what appears to be the same rare strain of tuberculosis that Speaker has – although that strain had not been identified and named at the time, said Dr. Charles Daley, head of National Jewish’s infectious disease division.Colorado State University also has become a national center for TB research, with a $6.4 million federal grant devoted to the disease.—On the Net:National Jewish Medical and Research Center: http://www.Njc.Org/Index.Aspx
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