Tuberculosis is an airborne infection that mainly affects the lungs. Even though the condition in now uncommon than in the past, some groups of children face a high risk such as:
- Children in a household with an adult with active tuberculosis or high risk of acquiring the condition.
- Children with HIV or another health condition that deteriorates the immune system
- Children from communities with inadequate medical care
- Children born in a country with high number of cases
- Children visiting countries where the condition is endemic and had extended contact with those who live there.
- Children living in shelters
How tuberculosis spreads
Tuberculosis typically spreads if an infected adult coughs bacterium into the air. The microorganisms are breathed in by the child and becomes sick.
Children below 10 years of age with tuberculosis rarely infect others since they have a few bacteria in the mucus secretions and have an ineffective cough.
Luckily, most children who are exposed to the condition do not become sick. Once the bacteria reach the lungs, the immune system attacks and prevents them from spreading.
What are the indications?
In some children who were not treated, the infection progresses which causes fever, irritability, fatigue, weakness, persistent cough, rapid breathing, swollen glands, night sweats, weight loss and stunted growth.
In some cases, usually among those below the age of 4 years old, tuberculosis can spread via the bloodstream to affect any organ in the body. This necessitates a more complex treatment and if started early, the better the outcome.
- In case the skin test for tuberculosis is positive, a chest X-ray is required to determine if there is proof of an active or past infection in the lungs. In case the X-ray reveals the possibility of an active infection, the doctor will also check for the presence of the bacteria in the cough secretions or in the stomach.
- If the skin test is positive but there are no indications of an active infection, the child is still infected. You can prevent the infection from becoming active by prescribing isoniazid which is taken orally once a day for a minimum of 9 months.
- For an active infection, the doctor will prescribe 3-4 medications. These are given to the child for 6-12 months. The child should be hospitalized initially to start the treatment, but can be continued at home.