Letter from Florence R. Sabin to Robert Sommerville
In this draft letter Sabin reports on the Health Committee's activities, explaining what is being done to assess public
health in Colorado.
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
12 (717,136 Bytes)
1945-11-18 (November 18, 1945)
Sabin, Florence R.
Original Repository: Smith College. Sophia Smith Collection. Florence Rena Sabin Papers
Reproduced with permission of Geraldine F. Swan.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Sabin's Third Career: Public Health in Colorado, 1939-1951
Box Number: 22
Folder Number: 8
1333 E. 10th Ave --
Denver -- 3. Colorado --
Nov. 18 -- 1945 --
Mr [sic] Robert Sommerville,
The Boulder Daily Camera
Boulder, Colorado --
My dear Mr. Sommerville,
I am glad to reply to your letters of November 8th concerning conditions of health in Colorado. As you suggest when Dr. Buck's
studies are completed we shall know much more about conditions in our State.
In general we have now four sources of information. First there are the startling figures of the percentage of rejections
for the armed services for reasons of health -- given out by General Hershey -- The full list, which was published in the
Rocky Mountain News is appended but I quote a few figures here --
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National Average 39.2
Southern Stats[?] and Vermont 44.7-56.8
The first five are to show how much better neighboring western states were than Colorado -- The analysis of [ . . . ] figures
has not yet been released by the Army.
Second there is a voluminous and authoritatin [sic] report of the Denver Metropolitan Planning Project, the Health Section
of which was organized in 1943. I obtained my copy from Dr. A.C. Tilley, Assistant Regional Director, 329 Equitable Building,
Denver. The report is marked "Preliminary report, not for publication" but the data has been used by everyone studying
and reporting on our health conditions. I think that you could get a copy.
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Third, there are the files of the State Health Department under Dr. Roy Cleere. His files are a mine of information and he
is eager to have his data made known.
Fourth, there are the files of the U.S. Public Health Service, District 8, under Dr. Fred Foard, Colorado Building, California
and 16th St., Denver.
From the report of the Denver Metropolitan Planning Project, I will quote the table of average death rates per 100,000, population
from 20 causes of death as of 1937-1941.
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Average Death Rates per 100,000 Population from Twenty Causes of Death in the U.S.A., Colorado (exclusion of the Denver Metropolitan
area), and in the Denver Metropolitan area, 1937-1941. Non-resident Deaths not Included.
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In this table the diseases in which we are especially interested are those for which we have much knowledge -- in their[?]
entirely adequate knowledge for their prevention -- These are notably certain infections of childhood, for example diphtheria;
infections of the digestin [sic] tract such as typhoid and all the dysenteries; and tuberculosis --
Diphtheria. This is a disease for which we have adequate and safe methods of immunization. In a recent number of the Journal
of the American Medical Association, 1945, Vol. 129. No. 10. Nov. 3. page 679 is an article entitled "Diphtheria can be
prevented." It states,
"In 1943 the death rate from diphtheria at all ages fell below 1 per hundred thousand for the first time. At the same
time the death rate in children under 10, in whom the disease is most frequent has fallen below 5 per hundred thousand. Wide
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variation in the size of the diphtheria rates among children occurs however, in different states. Using the average figures
for 1940-1942, Delaware without any deaths from diphtheria under 10 during these three years, appeared at one extreme and,
at the other, Arkansas and South Carolina with 13.7 deaths per hundred thousand and Oklahoma with a rate of 13.5. The available
methods for curtail[?] of diphtheria are sufficient to allow complete elimination of this disease in the United States."
In view of this what is our condition in Denver. For the five years from 1940 to 1944 Denver had 946 cases of diphtheria
and 23 deaths, that is a little less than 200 cases per year. In 1945 from January to September there were 231 cases and
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through June 12 deaths -- these figures are from Dr. Cleere's files and show that our conditions are not improving. I
tried for figures from the counties but reporting is too irregular to make comparisons fair.
What is necessary to eliminate diphtheria? First a local health department under a competent, professionally trained public
health officer, who will win the co-operatin [sic] of the medical profession to immunize children and give reports to the
health department. Second adequate numbers of public health nurses to educate parents to use these facilities. A modern health
department is responsible to furnish information about method [sic] of immunizatin [sic] for the other diseases of children[?]
as fast as they became established.
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Another marked delinquency in Colorado is in regard to infections of the digestive tract. Typhoid fever and the dysenteries
are controlled by establishing a pure water supply, pure [ . . . ] and proper disposal of sewage. In the October number of
the Reader's Digest is an article in our Dead and Dying Streams which shows that many rivers all over the United States
are being overloaded with sewage far beyond their capacity to purify themselves. Conditions in Colorado make biological stream
purification exceptionally difficult for we have both scanty and periodic stream flow. Beside this we use the contaminated
waters for irrigation -- You know that
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250 soldiers at Lowry field were ill with dysentery proven to be caused by eating cabbage contaminated with Denver sewage
water -- You also know that Dr. Cleere recently advised 68 towns in Colorado to improve their facilities for sewage disposal.
Since the dysenteries in general are not reported one cannot tell the amount of unnecessary illness involved but we know that
in Denver at least the number of cases is large.
Another important public health problem in Colorado is wide spread Brucellosis or Bangs disease of cattle -- one county has
40% infection of cows. This is a disease of goats, cattle and swine causing abortion -- thru milk and cheese from goats and
cows it is transmitted to human beings --
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For its elimination we need a state wide testing of cows with appropriate measures for eliminating the infection, measures
for eliminating the infection, -- but in the meantime we need state wide Pasteurization of milk -- only twelve cities in Colorado
have Pasteurization, namely Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Trinidad, La Junta, Leadville, Palisade, Grand Junction, Julesberg,
Greeley[?] L[ . . . ] and Fountain; and only two counties have it, namely El Paso and Las Animas.
I am sending you a copy of an especially important report in Public Health Services prepared at the U.S. Public Health District
8 in Denver of which Dr. Fred Fraid[?] is directing and a copy of the Bulletin containing reports of the Colorado Conference
of Social Welfare which has interested
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notes in health -- I enclose also a copy of my first report to the Governor which is I think correct except that I gave a
far too optimistic on tuberculosis -- A survey of our hospital facilities for tuberculosis patients has been made but the
final report is not yet available, but a preliminary verbal report indicated a marked lack of hospital beds in Colorado.
This means that we are not abreast the times in a preventin [sic] program. We do not yet have effective immunization against
tuberculosis but the death rate for this disease has been shifted from[?] the first to the eighth place by hospitalization
and education of open cases, by finding all contacts and by skilled treatment. In spite of our long experience with this
disease in Colorado we are
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singularly back now in preventing its spread -- when the report is available we shall hope for state wide education in the
prevention of tuberculosis.
I think that you will also be interested in a Diagnostic Clinic for Rheumatic Fever being conducted at the Colorado General
Hospital. We do not know why the incidence of this disease is so high in the Rocky Muntain [sic] area, nor how to prevent
it, but we do know that skilled medical care reduces the damage to the heart indicating a great need for facilities for convalescent
I hope that this will give you some of the data you need --