Tuberculosis in Colorado

Did you know that a large number of the people who migrated to Colorado in the late 1800s and early 1900s did so because they had tuberculosis?  Back then, people referred to the disease as  “consumption,” and during the Industrial Revolution it had beome quite prevalent among Americans, especially those who lived in large cities back East.  Colorado’s air quality and wide open spaces made it attractive to many who sought the “climate cure.”  The purest air could be found in the mountains, and places like Glenwood Springs became popular among tuberculars (in fact, Doc Holliday died there from the disease).  But for those who could not afford to live at a health spa, Denver became a popular alternative.  In fact, Denver’s Robert Speer is one person who came to Colorado looking to cure his tuberculosis.  He did — and became Denver’s mayor, serving 1904-1912 and 1916-1918.

The legacy of tuberculosis in Colorado can still be seen in Denver and other places around the state.  When you see an old house with a large, screened in porch, very often this will be because a consumptive lived there.  “Lungers,” as they were often referred to back then, were advised to stay outdoors as much as possible, and some stayed outside 24 hours a day, even in the winter.  Also, Denver’s National Jewish Hospital, established as a tuberculosis sanitarium, still specializes in respiratory medicine.

Tuberculosis is uncommon today, but it still exists.  The Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment monitors cases of this contagious disease.  They publish an annual surveillance report on Colorado tuberculosis cases, which is available from our library.  For general information on the disease and how it is spread, visit the CDPHE’s Tuberculosis webpage.