Parenting Health

How Children Get Tuberculosis?- Early Signs & Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Ambili S Kartha
3 to 7 years

Created by Ambili S Kartha
Updated on Jul 02, 2021

How Children Get Tuberculosis Early Signs Symptoms Prevention Treatment
Reviewed by Expert panel

A disease like tuberculosis (TB) preventable and curable disease can turn out to be fatal, especially in children due to overlooking the vague symptoms. One such disease which comes from this group is tuberculosis alias TB. TB in kids, even though is not common as in the 1920s during which it was the eighth leading cause of death in children from 1 to 4 years, is not rare as well. Once in active state tuberculosis in children can be fatal.

However, early recognition will ensure fast healing of tuberculosis in children. Continue reading to learn more about TB in children, its symptoms, causes, and treatment. 

What Is Tuberculosis(TB) Disease?

Tuberculosis is a chronic, contagious, bacterial infection caused by the bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This is an airborne disease, most often spread through droplets breathed or coughed into the air. This bacteria can affect any organ such as spine, kidneys, brain, etc. However, the illness most often affects the lungs and throat and is called pulmonary tuberculosis (pulmonary=related to the lungs). If the bacteria manage to get out of the lungs, it can spread throughout the body through blood and lymph nodes.

Once the tb infection happens in other areas, it is called non-pulmonary or extra-pulmonary tuberculosis.

Non-pulmonary Tuberculosis in Infants:

  • Miliary TB, TB that spread all over the body (sometimes confined to few organs) is common TB found in infants. Fortunately, this type of TB is fully curable
  • TB can affect kidney, bones, and joints. This TB will not spread as easily as pulmonary TB
  • Reproductive organs can also get affected by TB
  • Abdominal TB affecting the gastrointestinal tract, abdominal lymph nodes, pancreas, liver, and spleen
  • TB can affect the urinary tract


How Children Get TB? - Causes of Tuberculosis 

When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even speaks, sings, or laughs, the bacteria will spread in the air. Babies usually contract TB when they inhale these bacteria that spread in the air. However, a child generally does not become infected through the first contact itself. The repeated contact with the bacteria is the main reason for the babies contracting TB. Therefore, more often than not, the cause of infection of babies is usually an adult in their household who has active TB. Read: BCG Vaccine for newborn to protect against TB

What Are The Types Of Tuberculosis?

There are two kinds of Tuberculosis (TB) -

  1. Latent TB

    This occurs when a child contract TB bacteria, but does not exhibit symptoms. This is because the infected child's immune system being very strong will make the bacteria ‘inactive'. This child's skin test will be positive, but the chest X-ray will be normal. This child can't spread the infection to others
  2. Active TB

    A child with active TB exhibits all the annoying signs and symptoms of an active infection. In this type of TB, the child's skin test and chest X-ray result will be positive. The child will have the potential to spread the disease if not treated on time


What Are The Signs & Symptoms of TB in Infants?

Symptoms of the tuberculosis disease appear only once the infection turns active. However, unlike adults the infants who contract Mycobacterium tuberculosis develop active TB as their immune system is not fully developed yet. Even then the symptoms can vary with infants. Also, the symptoms of TB, rather than appearing as soon as the infant is infected will appear in two months, or even two years after the infection due to the long incubation period. The common signs of TB in babies are:

  • A cough that continues three weeks or more
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor growth
  • Loss of weight
  • Fever
  • Night sweats and chills
  • Tiredness or weakness

Other TB Symptoms:

  • Pain in the chest
  • Blood in the phlegm or sputum
  • Swollen glands

Your child may have only a few or most of these symptoms. These tuberculosis symptoms can be brought about by other health conditions as well, which makes it difficult to determine whether or not the child contracted TB.

How Is TB Diagnosed In Children?

Tuberculosis (TB) in infants is diagnosed with,

  • TB skin test:

    A small amount of testing material is injected into the top layer of the skin. The result is considered as positive if a specifically sized bump develops within 2 or 3 days at the site of injection
  • A chest X-ray to see if there is an infection in the lungs
  • Sputum test
  • A blood test called interferon-gamma release assays (IGRA) may also be done to check immune cells. This test will help to diagnose latent TB


What Are The Signs Of A TB Cough?

Unlike other types of coughs, a TB cough in infants will,

  • Continue for more than three weeks without subsiding
  • Chest pain during a cough
  • Coughing up sputum with or without traces of blood

Which Children Are More At Risk Of Contracting TB?

  • Children with weak immune system
  • Children live in a country or lives in an adjacent country which has a high rate of TB cases
  • Children living in a household with an adult who has active tuberculosis
  • Children infected with HIV

How Is Tuberculosis In Children Treated?

Tuberculosis treatments in infants are determined by the overall health, extent of infection, expected duration of the course, etc. There are different kinds of medication for treating TB in kids. It is used as a single or in a combined form. This is because the baby has a higher chance to develop resistance to a single drug. Medicines should be taken on time and carried to end as prescribed by the doctor.

Most commonly suggested drugs for active TB are:

  • Streptomycin
  • Pyrazinamide
  • Isoniazid
  • Ethambutol
  • Rifampin

For latent TB, generally, a six- to 12-month course of isoniazid will be given to children (aged between 2 to 11 years). This will eliminate TB microbes completely from the body. Children, who contracted TB, whether it is latent or active, needed excellent home care and healthy diet in addition to medication to combat the ailment effectively.


Did you like the blog? Did you find it useful? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below; we’d love to hear from you.


This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| Mar 24, 2018

very handy tips to combat TB. thanks for sharing.

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| Mar 25, 2018

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| Mar 25, 2018

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| Jul 02, 2021

Nice blog

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