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Childhood tuberculosis accounts for 6 to 10 percent of all cases of TB worldwide. In fact, up to 80,000 children worldwide die from this bacterial disease. In the United States, the numbers are much lower, but pediatric TB does exist. So what is TB, and do you need to worry your child may be infected?

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. When a person with TB breathes, speaks, sneezes, or coughs, bacteria is released into the air. People nearby who breathe in the infected air can then catch the disease. Not everyone who is exposed to TB becomes sick with the disease. In fact, there are two types of TB: latent TB and active TB. Patients with latent TB have been exposed to the bacteria but do not show any symptoms. Patients with active TB show signs of fever, cough, night sweats, and weight loss.

Diagnosing TB can be challenging in young children. Older children and adults can cough up mucous that can be sent to a lab for diagnosis, but infants and young children are incapable of doing this. Sometimes the diagnosis is made by sending their stomach contents to the lab to detect the presence of the bacteria, but this is often not reliable. Sometimes they will have a positive skin (called a PPD) or blood test for the bacteria, or a chest x-ray that is suspicious for the diagnosis.

While TB is mainly a disease of the lungs, infants and young children who are affected are much more likely to develop serious and life-threatening complications. They should always be under the care of a pediatric infectious disease specialist who can make decisions about treatment. Patients with latent TB may require nine months of a single drug to prevent them from developing the infection, while patients with the active disease may require six to nine months of a four-drug regimen.

Takeaways

  • Up to 80,000 children worldwide die from tuberculosis annually.
  • TB is hard to diagnose in young children, but a blood test or chest x-ray can help.
  • When a person with TB breathes, speaks, sneezes, or coughs, bacteria is released into the air.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. TB in children.
  2. World Health Organization. Childhood tuberculosis.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Tuberculosis.

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