Taking on TB: Dec. 13, 1893

Back in the 1890s, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in New York City, with a morbidity rate of 280 deaths for every 100,000 people. The head of the city’s Department of Health, a former doctor named Hermann Biggs, felt the local government needed to take action to fight the spread of the disease.

So he set up a lab where people could get tested and which could supervise isolation of those infected. A few years later, he pushed for a requirement that every case of TB had to be reported to the Health Department. It seems perfectly logical now, but back then doctors in the city fiercely fought the policy, claiming it would cause them to violate doctor-patient confidentiality and complaining of government tyranny. It’s considered a watershed moment in public health in America.