Tuberculosis: Effects on young children and how to prevent it

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It's inevitable that your child will fall sick, but what are the warning signs to look out for that may suggest the symptoms are hiding more than just a simple cough and could possibly be tuberculosis?

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Is your child’s persistent cough possibly a sign of tuberculosis?

When your little one starts coughing nonstop, you’ll probably take it as the first sign of a cold or the flu and will be bracing yourself a week or so of caring for a cranky, sick kid.

But what if your child’s cough hasn’t gone away after two weeks and she doesn’t seem to be getting any better?

It may just possibly be tuberculosis (TB), which is an infection caused by a microorganism known as Mycobacterium Tuberculosis.

TB usually affects the lungs but also can affect other organs such as lymph nodes, larynx (voice box), bones, intestines, and kidneys.

Recently in Singapore, some children were recalled to the National University of Singapore after a nurse was diagnosed with TB, there was a mysterious outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis in Ang Mo Kio, and also the latest case of 80 preschool children in Bukit Batok getting screened for TB after being in contact with a teacher who had contracted the disease.

So it is important that parents learn how to recognise the symptoms of a TB infection and how to prevent your little ones from getting it.

theAsianParent spoke to Dr Ong Kian Chung, Respiratory Specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, for more insight about tuberculosis and its effect on young children.

Warning signs and symptoms

Dr Ong: In adults, any cough persisting more than 3 weeks should be evaluated more carefully, as cough due to common cold or flu should not persist longer than 3 weeks.

Part of the evaluation for such cases of persistent cough lasting more than three weeks should include a chest X-ray.

Other symptoms suggestive of tuberculosis infection include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Tendency to sweat (especially at night)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lots of phlegm
  • Coughing out blood
  • Chest discomfort
  • Breathlessness
  • Poor appetite

 

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It is important to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to avoid spreading germs

How tuberculosis is spread 

Dr Ong: Tuberculosis is transmitted from an infected person to another via respiratory droplets in the air when the infected person coughs.

The TB germs are found in the respiratory droplets suspended in the air which are then inhaled into the contact person’s lungs — from there the tuberculosis germs may multiply and cause disease.

Sometimes (not commonly), the tuberculosis germs in the lungs invade into the blood stream and from there, the tuberculosis infection may affect other organs in the body.

It is imperative to diagnose a person with active tuberculosis infection early so that proper treatment of the infection may be initiated in order to prevent or reduce the chance of transmission to others.

TB infection is also very treatable with proper medication and the earlier proper treatment is commenced the less lung (or other organ) damage will be sustained by the individual, ie. there will be less chance of permanent scarring of the lungs (or damage to other affected organs).

Go to the next page to read more about the effects of tuberculosis on young children and what you can do to protect your family

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