All you need to know about TB in children
What is Tuberculosis (TB)
TB is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs, though it can affect any organ in the body. It can develop when bacteria spread through droplets in the air. TB can be fatal, but in many cases, it is preventable and treatable.
How TB spreads
TB bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.
TB in children
TB in children under 15 years of age (also called paediatric tuberculosis) is a public health problem of special significance because it is a marker for recent transmission of TB. Also of special significance, infants and young children are more likely than older children and adults to develop life-threatening forms of TB disease (e.g., disseminated TB, TB meningitis). Among children, the greatest numbers of TB cases are seen in children less than 5 years of age, and in adolescents older than 10 years of age.
Symptoms in children
- Coughs for two weeks or more which do not improve on treatment
- Persistent fever for more than two weeks
- Weight loss / failure to thrive
- Fatigue / always tired
Symptoms in adults:
- A cough for two weeks or more
- Night sweats
- Unexplained loss of weight
- Fever for two weeks or more
Infection in children
A child gets TB in basically the same way as an adult however the source of infection for children is usually an adult in their household who has active TB, is coughing and is infectious. There are occassional instances of children being infected in a communal setting such as a school.
Once the TB bacteria have been inhaled they may reach the lungs, where they can multiply and then spread through the lymph vessels to nearby lymph nodes. In cases where the child’s immune response is not strong enough to stop the multiplication of the bacteria, TB then develops. The risk of progression to is greatest when the child is less than four years old, and to a lesser extent when they are less than ten years old. There is also a greater risk of progression in children who have a compromised immune system. HIV, Diabetes, Poor nutritional status are factors that contribute to a compromised immune status.
Prevention of TB infection
The main way that TB is prevented in children is by the use of the BCG vaccine. TB can also be prevented in children by diagnosing and treating cases of active TB among adults. It is usually adults, particularly adults in the same household, who spread TB to children.
How to prevent TB infection:
- Cover the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing
- Open windows and doors at home and in crowded rooms, schools, buildings and taxis
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthy food
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid alcohol
- Visit the clinic after being in contact with someone with TB show any of the symptoms of TB
Children under 5 years who have been in close contact with TB patients should be taken to the clinic for TB preventive treatment.
Should you or your child show symptoms of TB visit the clinic for a free TB test. A sputum test will be done and will be given medication right away if the test is positive for TB. TB medication is free.
TB can be cured if treated early. It is very important to take the medication as prescribed by a health care worker and complete it.
Because the TB germ is stubborn. A combination of different medicines is used ensure that all the germs hiding in the different parts of the body are removed.
Though symptoms may diasppear and a person may start feeling better after two weeks of starting treatment it is best to not stop taking the medicines and complete the course.
Should the the treatment not be completed a TB that does not respond to the common medicines (Multi Drug-Resistant TB) may be contracted.
TB and HIV
HIV positive people are more at risk of TB infection and disease. If HIV-positive TB symptoms must be tested and reported. All TB patients diagnosed with HIV are eligible for ART.