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Tuberculosis (TB)

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a chronic bacterial infection that usually infects the lungs, although other organs are sometimes involved. TB is primarily an airborne disease (spread by air droplets from infected people when they cough or sneeze).

There is a difference between being infected with the TB bacterium without illness and having active tuberculosis disease.

There are three important ways to describe the stages of TB. They are as follows:

  1. Exposure: This occurs when a person has been in contact, or exposed to, another person who is thought to have or does have TB. The exposed person will have a negative TB skin test, a normal chest x-ray, and no symptoms of the disease.
  2. TB infection: This occurs when a person has the TB bacteria in his/her body, but does not have symptoms of the disease. This person would have a positive skin test, but a normal chest x-ray and no illness.
  3. TB disease: This describes the person that has symptoms of an active infection. The person would have a positive skin test, a positive chest x-ray, and might be ill.

The cause of TB is the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis). Most people infected with M. tuberculosis never develop active TB. However, in people with weakened immune systems, including those with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), TB organisms can overcome the body's defenses, multiply, and cause an active disease.

Who is at risk for developing TB?

TB affects all ages, races, income levels, and both genders. Those at higher risk include the following:

What are the symptoms of TB?

Different symptoms are TB are present depending upon the age of the child affected. The following are the most common symptoms for TB. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of TB may resemble other lung conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

What causes TB?

The TB bacteria are spread through the air; however, repeated exposure to the germs is usually necessary before a child will become infected. It is not likely to be transmitted through personal items, such as clothing, bedding, or other items that a person with TB has touched. Adequate ventilation is the most important measure to prevent the transmission of TB.

How is TB infection diagnosed?

TB is diagnosed with a TB skin test. In this test, a small amount of noninfectious testing material derived from the TB bacterium is injected into the top layer of the skin. If a certain size bump develops within two or three days, the test may be positive for tuberculosis infection. Additional tests to determine if a child has TB disease include x-rays and sputum tests.

TB skin tests are suggested for those:

Recommendations for skin testing in children, from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are as follows:

Immediate testing:

Yearly skin testing:

Testing every 2 to 3 years:

Consider testing in children from ages 4 to 6 and 11 to 16 if:

Treatment for tuberculosis:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

Treatment may include:

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Online Resources of Respiratory Disorders


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