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Published June 09. 2012 09:01AM

At the dawn of the new century, tuberculosis or TB was the leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for about one out of every nine deaths in 1900. Those who survived did not have an easy time as countless numbers were permanently crippled or lingered with pain.

Costs associated to TB were also huge, even by today's ballooning health care standards. Economist and health advocate Irving Fisher estimated the total cost of TB exceeded $1,100,000,000 annually.

As many as 10 percent or more of these sufferers contracted the bovine form of the disease, most likely from cattle, cattle products or swine infected by cattle. Of the over 33,000 cattle tested in Pa. in 1899, 13.7 percent had tuberculosis. There were herds where 30 to 100 percent of the animals were infected.

Home to six million people and two million cattle, this state was at the forefront among states to mount a coordinated effort against bovine tuberculosis.

In 1895, the Pennsylvania State Livestock Sanitary Board was created, consisting of the governor, secretary of agriculture, dairy and food commissioner, and state veterinarian. Its initial funding of $40,000 per year was used to address tuberculosis, anthrax, glandes, and rabies.

Money was also available for the state to produce its own tuberculin and anthrax vaccines. The program began with herd owners voluntarily applying to have their stocks tested.

Those livestock owners most interested in creating and maintaining a herd free of tuberculosis were quick to enter the program. Animals testing positive were either euthanized and indemnity paid based on appraisal, or suspected animals could be quarantined as a sub herd and cared for apart from the rest of the herd. The owner agreed to disinfect the premises, and correct any other conditions.

The program was a success among producers and the number of applications for testing far exceeded the amount of available funding. There was also strong support from the general public. The involvement of the state's many practicing veterinarians also contributed to the success of the program.

Rabies threat

The same Live Stock Sanitary Board that handled the bovine tuberculosis program so effectively responded to a rabbles threat in the Tamaqua-Panther Valley area in the spring of 1912. This time the problem was rabid dogs running wild through the towns.

In one case, a man returning to his Tamaqua home late at night was attacked by a "mad dog" that had also "bit about a dozen other dogs." He was was able to chase it off with a club but the same animal was responsible for killing a two-month old puppy later that evening. When the pup's owner, Charles Seltzer, heard the cries, he grabbed his gun and "dispatched the animal."

A number of town councils in the Panther Valley contacted the state about the problem of rabid dogs running wild in their streets. Since one feature of the state Sanitary Board was to educate and inform the public, it was no great surprise when Dr. G. K. Swank appeared at a Tamaqua council meeting in early April to discuss "the numerous dogs found suffering with Rabies" in the area.

Swank determined the threat to public safety was strong enough to quarantine the area.

"He pointed out the absolute necessity of such action and assured council that the state would supply a man who would remain in this section and shoot all dogs running at large, the state to pay the expense but the borough to bury all dogs killed," the Courier reported on April 9.

Residents were given a 10-days grace period before the order was enacted to kill all dogs running at large that were not muzzled. Even animals wearing license tags were not exempt and had to be confined to the backyard.

Animals showing "symptoms of nervousness or any other signs of disease" had to be immediately reported to state authorities.

When a rabid dog was located and dispatched, the state typically ordered a 40-day quarantine of all dogs along the route traveled by the mad dog and a 100-day quarantine of all dogs that had been bitten.

The quarantine was to remain in effect for 100 days or until it was revoked by the board.

The board took its authority from the law enacted in 1895 which held any person guilty of a misdemeanor for interfering with officers of the State Livestock Sanitary Board conducting their business. If convicted, violators faced a fine of $100, imprisonment for one month, or both.

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