Search For Books
Stalking the Great Killer: Arkansas's Long War on Tuberculosis (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now
Imagine a time when a killer disease took lives at a rate rivaling Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021, and continued that grim harvest year after year, decade after decade. Such a nightmare scenario played out in the state of Arkansas--and across the United States--throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, when the scourge of tuberculosis afflicted populations. Stalking the Great Killer is the gripping story of Arkansas's struggle to control tuberculosis, and how eventually the state became a model in its effective treatment of the disease. To place the story of tuberculosis in Arkansas in historical perspective, the authors trace the origins of the disease back to the Stone Age. As they explain, it became increasingly lethal in the nineteenth century, particularly in Europe and North America. Among U.S. states, Arkansas suffered some of the worst ravages of the disease, and the authors argue that many of the improvements in the state's medical infrastructure grew out of the desperate need to control it. In the early twentieth century, Arkansas established a state-owned sanatorium in the northwestern town of Booneville and, thirty years later, the segregated Black sanatorium sanitorium outside Little Rock. These institutions helped slow the "Great Killer" but at a terrible cost: removed from families and communities, patients suffered from the trauma of isolation. Joseph Bates saw this when he personally delivered an uncle to the Booneville sanitorium as a teen in the 1940s. In the 1960s, Bates, now himself a physician, and his physician colleague Paul Reagan overcame a resistant medical-political system to develop a new approach to treating the disease without the necessity of prolonged isolation. This approach, consisting of brief hospitalization followed by outpatient treatment, became the standard of care for the disease. Americans today, having gained control of the disease in the United States, seldom look back. Yet, in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, this compelling history, based on extensive research and eyewitness testimony, offers valuable lessons for the present about community involvement in public health, the potential efficacy of public-private partnerships, and the importance of forward-thinking leadership in the battle to eradicate disease.