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Tuberculosis, or TB, is a highly contagious disease. It was a most dreaded disease in the 19th century, causing a lot of deaths of children aged 1 to 4 years. It has been eradicated now to a large extent but is still prevalent in pockets where there is poverty, poor hygiene, poor nutrition and those weakened by HIV infection.

Causative agents and contagiousness

The disease is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. It can infect any organ like bone, stomach, and liver etc. but the most infected are the lungs. When a person with TB does not take treatment and cough or sneezes, he spews out droplets containing the bacteria. If these droplets are inhaled by those in the vicinity they too get infected and this is the most common way of the infection spreading. It spreads thus rapidly in crowded places like prisons and those areas which are dingy and have poor ventilation. Undernourished children are all the more vulnerable.

Children get the disease from infected adults and are usually not considered contagious. The time it takes to become infected after exposure to the disease can be weeks or years. It depends on which type of TB the child was exposed to and the health and environment of the child.

Types and Symptoms of Tuberculosis in kids

Latent tuberculosis infection is the first infection in very young children and there are no signs and symptoms. A chest X-ray reveals no sign of infection and only a tuberculin skin test is positive. A child exposed to an infected person should have this test and if it is positive, medication should begin immediately even if there are no symptoms.

In some cases a child develops immunity to this infection in 6 to 10 weeks and it disappears on its own but in other cases the danger lies in the disease progressing and spreading through the entire lung area and other organs. It is called progressive TB. Symptoms like weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever and cough appear.

At times the primary infection resolves and no symptoms appear, but the bacteria remain dormant in the body. As soon as the child has lowered immunity due to any reason, the bacteria attack and symptoms such as persistent fever with swatting at night appear. The child begins to lose weight and complaints of fatigue. If immediate treatment does not begin then cavities form in the lungs and when the child cough mucus containing blood is expelled.

Primary TB diagnosis and treatment

If an infant contracts TB, then a doctor will hospitalise him. The severity of the disease needs to be evaluated and treatment accordingly decided. Side effects of drugs need to be monitored initially. Sometimes the child suffers from other diseases along with TB and then also he has to be in the care of doctor in a hospital.

However, in the case of older children, in most cases, a child can be cared for at home, with regular visits to a doctor. Mostly oral medications are given, usually a combination of 3 or 4 medicines. Treatment has to be continued for many months and should be diligently followed. The full course must be completed without a break to completely eradicate the disease.

  • A vaccine called BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) is administered in countries where TB is prevalent. It is not considered very effective where there are hardly any cases of TB.
  • Any person who is exposed to the bacteria should take the Tuberculin skin test to ascertain whether he has been infected or not. Then he can be given treatment accordingly. This screening is very important.
  • Contact with persons who have the active disease must be avoided. Children should be kept away from them. The person with the disease must take the full and proper dosage of medicine to lessen chances of spreading infection. Preventive medicine must be taken by those who come in contact or care for infected people.
  • A good living standard should be maintained with proper hygiene and nutritious food. Proper disposal by burning is essential of all items infected by sputum and other discharges of the patient.