Tuberculosis is an airborne disease that can be easily transmitted from one person to another. The risk of contracting this disease becomes even greater for children. This is so because the immune system of children is still at its nascent stage so it is unable to defend itself from the onslaught of the tuberculosis bacteria.
In India the problem of tuberculosis among children is even greater because of the country being one of the tuberculosis endemic areas of the world. It is estimated that nearly 3 to 4 million in India suffer from tuberculosis.
Primary Risks of Tuberculosis among Children
- The most important risk that is associated with children contracting tuberculosis is that most of the symptoms of the disease are silent. The most common symptoms found in children include mild grade fever and loss of appetite. However, these symptoms are hardly enough to diagnose tuberculosis in a small child.
- Another great risk for children developing tuberculosis is that it may lead to the onslaught of other diseases such as pneumonia and rheumatoid arthritis and other kidney and liver related ailments.
- One of major risks associated with tuberculosis in children is the fact that in case the child is HIV+ then there are high chances that s/he will develop tuberculosis meningitis. This happens because the HIV infection so greatly suppresses the immune system of the child that the tuberculosis catapults into meningitis.
- TB Meningitis in children poses a high risk of causing blindness, paralysis, deafness and even mental retardation. What makes TB infection more fatal for children in India is that the disease has an effect of depleting nutrition in the patient. With a significant proportion of Indian children born underweight, TB only exacerbates their already malnourished state of health.
- Universal screening for Tuberculosis of children is not given as much prominence in India as other conditions such as Polio. We have seen how universal screening of Polio has helped the country come out of the list of polio-endemic countries of World Health Organisation (WHO). This system works only if all the children are screened.
- According to factsheet on TB released by WHO, early diagnosis for treatment of TB in adults can ensure that the children do not contract the disease. Since there is absence of such a programmed in the country, the risk of TB in children rises.
- WHO factsheet also states that diagnosis of TB in children under the age of 10 is difficult as they do not produce enough sputum needed for TB confirming lab tests. The BCG vaccination has compounded the problem as due to it, the tuberculin skin test is no longer considered confirmatory. Chest X-rays may also be used for detection of TB but they are difficult to interpret.
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