IDPH 125th


With much fanfare, Gov. Dwight H. Green on Jan. 10, 1946, became the first person to have a chest X-ray in one of two new Department mobile tuberculosis units.

During the next five weeks, more than 3,000 people had X-rays on the bus-type units to determine if they had tuberculosis, a contagious and potentially life-threatening disease that typically affects the lungs. In the years that followed, millions of people were X-rayed on these vans.

Tuberculosis was a serious problem in the state. In the year prior to the launching of this screening effort, there were 6,305 cases of tuberculosis and 3,159 deaths. In 1946, the number of deaths declined to 3,020 but TB cases increased to 6,587.

The mobile X-ray units were an important component of the Department’s statewide TB case-finding program. With the approval of the local medical society, the Department sent a mobile unit into a community to X-ray supposedly healthy people. Mass X-ray surveys of positive tuberculin reactors among high school students, industrial workers and other population groups were performed. A report of each X-ray was sent to each person’s family physician.

The program expanded to include six fully-equipped mobile X-ray units. With two technicians aboard each one, the vans traveled through the state. Between 1946 and 1972, these white public health tuberculosis vans became a familiar sight to citizens of Illinois.

By 1972, the number of TB cases in Illinois had fallen by more than two-thirds to 1,940. The decline in deaths was even more dramatic, dropping to 252. This remarkable reduction in TB cases negated the need for massive X-ray surveys. At a cost of $4,000, the vans were refurbished and re-equipped to serve Illinois as mobile teaching laboratories, as mass casualty emergency care units and as public health educational displays.

Illinois reported its lowest number of tuberculosis cases – 707 – in 2001.

... Years Ago in Public Health

A Timeline of the Illinois Department of Public Health

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