News / Health

    Study: Childhood TB Rates Much Higher than Estimated

    FILE - X-rays of a tuberculosis patient at A. G. Holley Hospital in Lantana, Florida.
    FILE - X-rays of a tuberculosis patient at A. G. Holley Hospital in Lantana, Florida.

    Children are getting sick with tuberculosis at a much higher rate than previously estimated, according to a new study.

    The research also presents the first-ever estimate of new TB infections among children: nearly eight million in 2010.

    It’s a huge burden but an enormous opportunity to prevent future illnesses, the authors say, because low-cost treatment can stop infection from becoming disease.

    Best guess

    Hard data are hard to come by, but the World Health Organization’s best guess was that around a half-million children worldwide developed tuberculosis in 2011.

    The WHO calculated that figure based on cases reported to health authorities. But many cases go unreported. Plus, TB in children is notoriously hard to diagnose.

    So the authors of the new study in the Lancet decided to take a different route.

    Family ties

    “The vast majority of children who get TB who are young get it from someone in their family,” said study co-author James Seddon, a pediatrician with Imperial College London.

    So the researchers used mathematical models to calculate how many children were likely to live with a family member with tuberculosis in the 22 countries that account for 80 percent of the world’s TB. They then estimated how many of those children got infected, and how many got sick.

    They came up with roughly 650,000 illnesses in those countries, more than the WHO’s estimate for the entire world.

    Most experts recognize the WHO’s estimate is low, so Seddon said that was not a huge surprise.

    However, the group also found that 15 million children were living with a person with TB and 7.6 million were newly infected. No one had done those estimates before and, he said, they were  “much greater than I had anticipated.”

    "Not a priority"

    WHO recommends preventive therapy for children exposed to or infected with TB but not showing symptoms. However, in most countries with high TB rates, Seddon said, they don’t get it.

    “Treating children who are asymptomatic and completely well is usually not a priority” in countries with limited resources and large numbers of sick patients who are actively spreading the disease, he said.

    However, he added, “We would hope that these numbers do strengthen the argument for saying to national programs, ‘Look, you’ve got a lot of children in your country who are infected with TB. And if they’re not identified and given preventive treatment this is going to be a problem that is not going to go away in the future.'”

    How big?

    Childhood tuberculosis has not gotten as much attention as adult disease in part because experts did not know how big the problem was.

    “When UNICEF or other organizations ask us, ‘Well, how many children become sick with tuberculosis every year?’ we end up sort of wringing our hands and saying, ‘Well, it’s very complicated,’” said infectious diseases doctor Jennifer Furin at Case Western Reserve University. She was not involved in the research.

    “This paper is an incredible addition to the field because it tells us how many children we need to be screening and targeting for preventive measures each year so that they don’t go on to get sick,” she said.

    And by preventing those future cases, “This will impact not just the health of children, but it will also greatly impact the health of adults as well, and contribute to stopping the chain of transmission that’s unabated in high-prevalence countries,” said Baylor College of Medicine pediatrician Jeffrey Starke, who co-wrote a comment accompanying the article.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora