Tuberculosis: Why the BCG vaccine is a game-changer for your child's health

Protect your child from tuberculosis with the BCG vaccine. Learn about prevention and treatment options for your little one today.

Tuberculosis, the BCG vaccine, and your baby

As a parent, ensuring the health and well-being of your child is undoubtedly your top priority. In the area of infectious diseases, tuberculosis remains a major global concern that can pose a serious threat to infants and young children. However, amid this looming threat lies a powerful tool known as the BCG vaccine – a remarkable immunization that has been at the forefront of the battle against tuberculosis for decades. In this article, we dive into the complex relationship between TB and the BCG vaccine and how it can protect your precious baby from this ancient disease. Get ready as we reveal the secrets of this important vaccine and its impact on your child's health!

What is the BCG vaccine?

The BCG vaccine contains a weakened form of the bacteria (germ) that causes tuberculosis. Because it is weak, it does not cause TB, but it helps your child develop protection (immunity) against TB if he or she becomes infected with it.

The BCG vaccine is particularly effective in protecting infants and young children from rare, severe forms of TB such as TB meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain).

Tuberculosis infection

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection. It usually affects the lungs but can also affect any part of the body. Infection with tuberculosis bacteria may not develop into tuberculosis. TB develops slowly in the body, and it takes several months for symptoms to appear.

Most people with TB infection will never develop TB disease. In these people, the TB germ remains inactive for life. In other people (for example, those with a weak immune system), the TB germ may become active and cause TB disease. Most people recover completely after treatment, but this takes several months.

Treating TB takes a long time, and preventing it is much easier.

Symptoms of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis can affect any part of the body. Symptoms will vary and signs of illness in a child may differ from those of an adult. Because TB is contagious, it is important that you can recognize the disease in another person.

You should call your doctor if you, your child, or another family member or friend has any of the following:

  • Persistent cough that lasts more than two weeks of fever
  • Sweating, especially at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • The child fails to gain weight
  • A general and unusual feeling of fatigue and malaise
  • Coughing up blood


How is tuberculosis detected?

You can only get TB from someone who has already infected their lungs or throat and is coughing. When he coughs, a spray of tiny droplets containing bacteria is produced. If a person inhales the droplets, they can also become infected. It would require sharing an enclosed space with an infected person, for example living in the same household, for them to be at risk of infection.

How common is tuberculosis?

This is especially important because tuberculosis is a disease that is widespread throughout the world. The risk of contracting the disease is higher in people who have lived or worked in countries with high rates of tuberculosis. Children from these families are also more likely to have close contact with infected individuals in their community. 

Why should your child be offered the BCG vaccine?

BCG is offered to children who are likely to spend time with someone who has TB. This includes children who live in an area with high rates of TB or children who have parents or grandparents from a country with high rates of TB.

How is your child immunized?

Your child will receive the BCG vaccine in the upper left arm. The vaccination is given soon after birth, usually within 28 days after birth.

Side effects of the BCG vaccine

Immediately after the injection, a prominent blister will appear. This indicates that the injection was given correctly.

Within 2 to 6 weeks of injection a small spot will appear. This may be very painful for a few days, but should gradually heal if you don't cover it. It may leave a small scar. It's normal.

Occasionally, your child may develop a superficial ulcer at the injection site. If this is weeping fluid and needs to be covered, use a dry bandage – don't use a bandage at all – until a crust forms. This ulcer may take up to several months to heal.

If you are concerned or think the ulcer has become infected, see your doctor.

Reasons your child should not get the BCG vaccine

As with most other vaccinations, the injection may not be given or should be delayed if:

  • Your child has a high temperature
  • Your child has a common, infected skin condition. If eczema is present, an injection site free of skin lesions will be chosen

In rare cases, bacteria in the vaccine can cause serious infections in children with weakened immune systems.

It is very important to tell the nurse or doctor if your child has or is suspected of having a weakened immune system. For example:

  • If the child is being treated for cancer or other serious conditions
  • The child's mother was receiving biological immunosuppressive therapy during pregnancy
  • There is a family history of immune system problems (eg HIV, severe immunodeficiency (SCID))
  • Children who have or may have SCID


Which children need BCG?

Even if you do not live in an area where all children are offered the BCG vaccine, your child may still need the vaccine.

If you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, you should ask your doctor or nurse about your child's BCG:

  • Does your child, the child's mother, father, grandparents, or anyone living with you come from a country with high rates of TB?
  • Will you and your child live or stay with friends and family in one of these countries?
  • Does anyone who lives with you, or spends a lot of time with your child, have TB now or had TB in the past?

BCG vaccine and routine immunization

Your baby can start routine immunizations at 8 weeks of age regardless of when he received the BCG vaccine. You should make sure your child is not given another BCG injection in the same arm for at least 3 months afterwards; Otherwise, the glands in that area may swell.

Make sure there is a record of BCG vaccination in your child's personal health record (red book) for future reference.

Conclusion: Tuberculosis, the BCG vaccine, and your child

In conclusion, TB is a serious disease that can have devastating effects on individuals, especially infants and young children. The BCG vaccine has been shown to be effective in preventing tuberculosis and reducing its spread. It is crucial for parents to make sure their children receive the BCG vaccine according to the recommended schedules to protect them from this infectious disease. By vaccinating your child against tuberculosis, you are not only protecting his or her health, but you are also contributing to the overall public health effort to eradicate this deadly disease. Let's work together to keep our children healthy and TB-free by staying informed and taking proactive steps toward vaccination. 

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