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  • Shield Your Child From Tuberculosis by Giving Him the BCG Vaccine

    According to WHO, tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death in the Philippines.
    by Kate Borbon .
Shield Your Child From Tuberculosis by Giving Him the BCG Vaccine
PHOTO BY iStock
  • According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis continues to be a “major health problem” in the Philippines and it is one of the leading causes of illness and death among Filipinos. In 2011 alone, there were over 200,000 cases reported in the country. These statistics make it even more critical for parents to take every measure in protecting their children from the disease, including having them receive the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, which provides defense against tuberculosis. Here is everything you need to know about tuberculosis and the BCG vaccine.

    What is tuberculosis?

    Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, is an infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. This disease is airborne — it is mainly spread through tiny droplets released to the air by an infected person who coughs or sneezes. It can be fatal if not treated correctly.

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), while most children who become exposed to TB don’t fall ill or kids younger than about 10 years old with TB of the lungs rarely infect other people, they still need to be treated to "prevent an active disease from ever occurring."

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    Tuberculosis symptoms and possible complications

    Kids who get infected with TB show the following symptoms: fatigue, fever, heavy breathing, a persistent cough, weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss. If an infected child does not get the right treatment, the illness is likely to worsen.

    In rare cases, the TB infection might seep into a child’s bloodstream and begin to affect other parts of his body, including the kidneys or the spine. The brain might also get affected and trigger an illness called meningitis, which occurs when the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord get inflamed.

    Tuberculosis treatment

    Like many infectious diseases, early treatment is important to help a child recover from tuberculosis. But before providing treatment, children who are at risk of being infected with TB are first recommended to take the tuberculin skin test (TST).

    During the test, the child will be injected with a purified and inactive piece of the TB germ in his forearm. If the injection site reddens and swells, it means that he has the infection. The test will also tell if your child has already been previously infected, even if he doesn’t show any symptoms.

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    The AAP provides questions you can ask in deciding whether or not to have your child take the TST.

    • Has any family relative or close contact been infected with TB?
    • Has any family relative gotten a positive tuberculin skin test?
    • Was the child born in a country with high risk of TB?
    • Has the child traveled to and/or been in contact with people from a country with high risk of TB for more than a week?

    If your answer to any of the questions is yes, then your child might need to take the test.

    The Mayo Clinic also shares several guidelines to keep in mind when treating a TB-infected child at home. These include making sure to give him a mask and to cover his mouth when he is coughing or sneezing, and keeping the room well-ventilated, since TB germs spread more easily in closed spaces where the air does not move.

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    BCG vaccine is the best protection

    Parents are recommended to have their children receive the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine in countries where TB is common like in the Philippines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says children who are constantly exposed to adults who have been untreated, treated ineffectively or who have contracted TB caused by drug-resistant strands of the disease need to be vaccinated.

    Children, especially those ages 4 years or less, are among the groups that are most vulnerable to getting infected with TB and its potentially life-threatening complications. This makes it even more imperative for them to receive the BCG vaccine, which will help their immune system fight the germs and prevent it from worsening.

    It is common for children to exhibit some reactions, such as soreness at the injection site, after receiving the vaccination, but more serious and long-term complications due to the vaccine are rare. Studies have also shown that the BCG vaccine helps keep kids protected even 15 years after immunization.

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    According to the updated childhood immunization schedule for 2019 prepared by the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP) in cooperation with the Philippine Foundation for Vaccines (PFV), children are recommended to receive a dose of the BCG vaccine at birth. This vaccine should be available for free in health centers all over the country.

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