Respiratory diseases in children: Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an airborne infection that mainly affects the lungs. Even though the condition is now uncommon than in the past, there are some groups of children who face a higher risk for developing it such as:

  • Children in a household with an adult with active tuberculosis or has high risk of acquiring the condition
  • Children infected with HIV or other conditions that weakens the immune system
  • Children living in shelters
  • Children in communities that receive poor medical care
  • Children who visited countries where tuberculosis is endemic

How does tuberculosis spreads

Tuberculosis is typically spread if an infected adult cough or sneezes. The microorganism is inhaled by the child who becomes infected. Children ages 10 years with tuberculosis rarely infect others since they have a few bacteria in the mucus secretions and have an ineffective cough.


Tuberculosis is typically spread if an infected adult cough or sneezes.

Luckily, many children who have been exposed to tuberculosis do not become sick. Once the bacteria reach the lungs, the immune system attacks and prevents further spread. These children could develop a symptom-free infection that is indicated by a positive skin test. Nevertheless, a child that is free from any symptoms still requires treatment to prevent an active disease from occurring.

What are the indications?

Occasionally, the condition in some children can progress which leads to fatigue, fever, irritability, weakness, persistent cough, rapid breathing, night sweats, weight loss, swollen glands and poor growth.

In rare instances, tuberculosis can spread via the bloodstream which affects any organ in the body. This necessitates a complex approach and the earlier it is started, the better the outcome.


  • If the skin test of the child is positive for tuberculosis, a chest X-ray is ordered to check if there is an active or past infection in the lungs. If the X-ray reveals the possibility of an active infection, the doctor will check for the bacteria in the cough secretions or in the stomach.
  • If the skin test is positive but there are no symptoms or indications of an active tuberculosis infection, he/she is still infected. The infection can be prevented from becoming active by prescribing isoniazid. This medication should be taken orally once a day for a minimum of 9 months.
  • If there is an active infection, the doctor will prescribe 3-4 medications. These medications should be given to the child for 6-12 months. The child is hospitalized initially for the treatment to be started, but the rest can be carried out at home.