What are the Signs of Tuberculosis in Children?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tuberculosis in children often causes no symptoms, making it hard to identify unless a child happens to receive a tuberculosis skin test. Children at risk for tuberculosis should be evaluated with a skin test and all children who test positive need treatment, even if they don't have any outward signs of tuberculosis infection. With treatment, children will be less likely to experience complications from tuberculosis in the future.

A skin test is commonly used to screen children for tuberculosis.
A skin test is commonly used to screen children for tuberculosis.

In children who do experience symptoms, they may be subtle. Tuberculosis in children can be accompanied with enlargement of the lymph nodes, chronic cough, weight loss, and a fever. Chest x-rays can be normal in some cases, while in others they may show signs of active tuberculosis disease. Skin tests checking for exposure to tuberculosis should come up positive.

A fever may accompany other symptoms of tuberculosis.
A fever may accompany other symptoms of tuberculosis.

Children from areas of the world where tuberculosis is common are at increased risk, as are children with a history of exposure to people who have this disease, or children who have immune disorders like AIDS. Children who have not recovered as expected from childhood illnesses should also be evaluated for tuberculosis, as it is possible they contracted the disease while ill or became sick because their immune systems were weakened by tuberculosis.

Treatment of tuberculosis in children involves administering a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. The course can be long, as it is important to fully eradicate the organisms to prevent the development of drug resistance. If there are concerns that a child may have a drug-resistant tuberculosis strain, the medication regimen can be varied to make sure all of the bacteria are effectively targeted. Children can experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea while in treatment and may resist treatment on the grounds of discomfort, but it is important to finish out the treatment, if at all possible.

Tuberculosis skin testing is routine in some areas of the world and can allow for early identification of tuberculosis in children. In regions where it is less common, children at risk for the disease should be periodically reevaluated to ensure it is caught as quickly as possible. Untreated tuberculosis in children can result in serious complications like loss of lung function, and will also give the disease time to spread to people in close contact with the child, increasing the risks that the disease will reach someone with a vulnerable immune system who will not be able to fight off the infection.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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