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.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs