From the Field

5 facts about tuberculosis (TB) in children

Vijay is a smiling, healthy, 12-year-old boy and a survivor of deadly tuberculosis meningitis (TB). His brother, Vinod, was never diagnosed; he didn’t survive.

“For five years we struggled with his illness. All the money that we earned was spent on tests and treatments. But still, we lost him,” says Saraswathi, the boys’ mother.

“Even though there is a sure cure for TB, children continue to silently die of TB as in many cases the disease is not diagnosed,” says Job Reddy, manager of the World Vision-sponsored health project near Hyderabad, India, that helped Vijay get treatment.

We recognize World Tuberculosis Day every year on March 24 to remember when in 1882 Dr. Robert Koch announced his discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB).

A million children are infected with tuberculosis annually and as many as 32,000 develop a drug-resistant strain of the disease that is extremely difficult to treat, according to a study published in The Lancet, a British medical journal.

“The estimation of TB in children is a very complex and challenging exercise, and lots of debates are going on,” says Gagik Karapetyan, World Vision infectious disease expert. “It is widely accepted that tuberculosis and multi-drug resistant TB are underestimated in children, but there is no one reliable methodology to calculate or estimate the true magnitude of the disease.”

Five facts you need to know about tuberculosis in children:

  1. Every day, about 680 children lose their lives to tuberculosis, a preventable and curable disease.
  2. TB is more difficult to diagnose in children due to non-specific symptoms. TB pathogens may go undetected in their lungs.
  3. Children are more likely than adults to have TB in other parts of their bodies besides the lungs (extra-pulmonary TB).
  4. Unlike in adults, the disease often develops in children very quickly and may lead to death within a few weeks of exposure to TB.
  5. TB in children can be treated, and most handle the medicine regimen well. Preventive therapy is available to children too. 

Chris Huber of World Vision’s staff in the U.S. and Joan Nirupa of World Vision’s staff in India contributed to this article.

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