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Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In 70 per cent of cases, TB affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the lymph glands, brain, kidneys or spine. It is more common for children to have TB that affects multiple parts of
the body than it is for adults, and TB is likely to be more serious in children.
Australia has one of the lowest rates of TB in the world; however, TB is very common in some countries. TB spreads through the air, but it is not easy to catch. Those most at risk of getting TB are people with weakened immune systems.
TB can be successfully treated by taking the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by a doctor.
People can have TB infection, but they will not necessarily become sick with TB disease.
If your child has TB disease, they may have fever, tiredness, sweating at night time and weight loss. If they have TB disease in the lungs, your child will have coughing and chest pain.
Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body depend on the affected area. The symptoms can be quite varied. Some children with TB disease have no symptoms at all.
If you suspect that your child may have TB, or may have been in contact with someone affected by TB, see your GP. The doctor will arrange for some tests to see if your child has been infected with TB.
Both the skin and blood tests can indicate that a child has been infected with TB. However, they do not determine if the child has active TB disease. Further testing is then needed to find out if the TB is active, including a thorough examination by a doctor, chest X-rays and sputum (a
coughed-up mixture of saliva and mucus) samples.
Both TB infection and TB disease are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics used to treat TB include Isoniazid, Rifampicin, Pyrazinamide and Ethembutol.
It is very important that all antibiotics are taken until advised by your doctor. If you stop taking antibiotics before your doctor tells you to, this can make the TB bacteria resistant to antibiotics and difficult to treat.
Sometimes the antibiotics used to treat TB can cause side effects. Side effects are less common in children than in adults.
If my child has no symptoms but they have TB infection, how
will I know if they are infected? Do they need treatment if they have no
There are straightforward tests (including a chest X-ray and
skin test) that will show whether or not your child is infected. You can
discuss this with your GP. Even without symptoms, it is important that your
child completes their course of treatment.
Will TB cause permanent damage to my child's lungs?
TB can affect many different systems within the body. The
extent of damage will depend on the severity of disease within any particular
system, including the lungs. Talk to your doctor about this.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Respiratory Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed June 2018.
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