Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. TB primarily targets the lungs but may affect any area of the body. It can be spread through the air from person to person through droplets of respiratory secretions such as sputum or aerosols released by coughing, sneezing, laughing, or breathing.
Most people who become infected with M. tuberculosis manage to confine the mycobacteria to a few cells in their lungs, where they stay alive but in an inactive form. This latent TB infection does not make the person sick or infectious and, in most cases, it does not progress to active tuberculosis. However, some people - especially those with compromised immune systems - may progress directly from initial TB infection to active tuberculosis. People who have HIV are much more likely to become sick if they contract TB. Another increasing concern is drug-resistant forms of TB that are resistant to the antibiotics typically prescribed to treat the disease.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TB in children is a public health concern because it is a marker for recent transmission of the bacteria, and infants and young children are more likely than older children and adults to develop life-threatening forms of the disease.
TB is one of the world's deadliest diseases, although it is relatively uncommon in the U.S. Still, it is a large health issue among at-risk groups. Current guidelines call for targeted screening among such groups.
Because of their weak immune systems, infants under 2 years of age are especially susceptible to this infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), testing with a tuberculin skin test is advised for children who are at risk of contracting TB, including:
- If an infant has been exposed to someone with active or suspected TB, such as a family member or other contact
- Is an immigrant from a country where TB is endemic or has traveled to those countries for more than one week
Sources Used in Current Review
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tuberculosis (TB) in Children in the United States. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/populations/tbinchildren/default.htm. Accessed October 2016.
HealthyChildren.org. Tuberculosis in Children. Available online at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chest-lungs/Pages/Tuberculosis.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token. Accessed October 2016.