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The role of BCG vaccine in preventing Tuberculosis in children, adolescents

IANS Mar 23, 2024

The 100-year-old Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG) vaccine continues to play a crucial role in preventing Tuberculosis (TB) in children and adolescents.

Tuberculosis is one of the oldest diseases of mankind caused by a bacterium known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Children can acquire the deadly disease through their close contacts.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates show that over 1 million children worldwide under the age of 15 years fall ill with TB every year. Of these, more than half are not diagnosed and/or not reported.

It is also one of the most important causes of chronic infection in the paediatric population.

"The children with tuberculosis initially may have a fever, which can turn into a high grade. In some children, fever can be continuous, while in others it can be more after night time. Children younger than four years old or teenagers who have started puberty and children with weakened immune systems (including those who are infected with HIV, or take medications that will decrease their body's immune system) are at higher risk of TB infections," said Lokesh Mahajan, HOD and Senior Consultant-Neonatology & Pediatrics, Marengo Asia Hospitals, Faridabad.

Doctors noted that TB can be prevented by giving the vaccine BCG at the time of birth.

"This vaccine helps in preventing the serious forms of tuberculosis like CNS tuberculosis and other forms of extrapulmonary TB which are common in less than two years of age. If the child was not given the BCG vaccine at the time of birth, then his/her catch-up vaccination can be done till the age of 5 years," Lokesh said.

"Neonatal BCG vaccination plays a vital role as it provides significant protection against severe forms of TB, such as miliary TB and tuberculous meningitis, which pose heightened risks to infants and young children. This vaccination is key in bolstering the immune response and reducing the likelihood of TB transmission and disease development in this vulnerable population," added Kuldeep Kumar Grover, Head of Critical Care & Pulmonology - CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram.

The experts also stressed the importance of reducing children's exposure to individuals with TB infection. However, in the case of exposure, the child has to be screened for tuberculosis, the experts said.

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