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Tuberculosis Vaccine | BCG Vaccine | All You Need To Know

Tuberculosis is one of the most prevalent diseases of the Old World that has seen a steady decline in previous decades — thanks to the wide administration of the BCG vaccine, the most widely used Tuberculosis (TB) vaccine currently. However, despite major strides in controlling the spread of TB, the disease that has become associated with high poverty incidence, has been reported to be steadily increasing once again, including in more industrialized countries.

Despite comprehensive TB immunization programs in less developed countries, TB remains to be the leading cause of death due to a single infectious agent, and the ninth cause of mortality due to health reasons. TB is also the Number 1 killer of People Living with HIV (PLHIV).

Whether or not you are residing in a country with high TB incidence, outlined below are the most important information that you need to know about this deadly but curable disease.

What is BCG vaccine?

The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) Vaccine was named after the vaccine developers, Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin. The two French scientists successfully had the vaccine approved for human use by 1921 following almost 15 years of research. The BCG vaccine consists of a weakened strain of TB derived from animals which, according to Calmette and Guerin were sufficiently weakened not to cause any harm to a human host but, sufficient enough for the human body to develop a level of immunity to protect it against deadly strains of TB.

Based on long-term observations about the beneficial effects of the vaccine, it provides very good protection against TB strains affecting children. However, its benefits for protecting against Pulmonary TB, which is the most common form of TB among adults, has not been established.

How long is a TB shot good for? Beneficial effects have been reported to last anywhere from 10 to 15 years following vaccination.

When to give BCG Vaccine for newborn?

The TB vaccine was, from the beginning of the vaccine’s history, been recommended for mass administration among newborns, mostly to protect them from adults who have developed TB. Presently, however, mass vaccination is now limited and administered only based on the following:

  • Recommended for all babies born in countries or communities still reporting high incidence of TB
  • Recommended for all older children exposed to TB, mostly by association with an infected family member

For children older than 6 months, a healthcare provider will normally perform a TB skin test. This test will show whether or not the child has already been in contact with TB. If the test shows positive, the child will no longer be vaccinated because some form of immunity against the TB-causing bacteria has already been established and that further vaccination may cause adverse reactions. TB skin test side effects are uncommon although people tested may develop swelling on the skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of BCG Vaccine?

Unlike other vaccines generally recommended for children, TB shot side effects, like developing colds or flu-like symptoms following the vaccine, are not expected. Quite similar to a polio vaccine scar, however, BCG is also a type of vaccine that leaves scar. However, not all children vaccinated with BCG will develop a vaccine scar on shoulder simply because every child will have a different reaction to the vaccine. When a scar does not develop, that, in no way, means that the vaccine is ineffective.

What happens if you test positive for tuberculosis?

When you get a positive test for TB, your healthcare provider will likely perform further tests to better understand the type of TB that you have and how your body has been affected. Further tests will include a chest X-ray and a sputum test. You may also be made to undergo a urinalysis or even a tissue analysis.

Your healthcare provider will then recommend a detailed and rigorous course of action depending on whether you have latent TB or a TB disease. If you fail to follow your treatment closely, there is a high possibility that you may develop a case of drug-resistant TB.

What are the treatments of Tuberculosis?

A first line of treatment for both latent TB and TB disease often involves the intake of isoniazid (INH) or rifapentine (RPT) over the course of several months. Your healthcare provider will guide you as to the correct dosage and frequency of intake which you must observe very closely. TB Disease may also involve the use of ethambutol (EMB) or pyrazinamide (PZA).

Can Tuberculosis be completely cured?

Remember that BCG vaccine usage will not stop you from becoming infected with TB and that the vaccine is generally not recommended for use among adults. Although, TB can be completely cured. Becoming completely healed and TB-free, however, requires a person infected to follow a course of treatment, ideally under the Directly Observed Treatment, Short-Course (TB-DOTS).

A person under TB-DOTS is required to make regular appointments with a local health provider who will personally witness that the TB infected person has taken his or her meds. This is important because most people who are infected often forget to take their drugs, mostly because they feel better after a few weeks and because treatment takes a long time which makes people forget proper schedule of medication. Again, neglecting treatment schedule can lead to drug-resistant TB which is more difficult to cure.

What are the side effects of Tuberculosis?

The side effects go beyond the individual infected. At the individual level, the normal functioning of the lungs, brain, spine and kidney, among other possibly affected organs, may become compromised. Since TB-causing bacteria is highly contagious, it affects households and entire communities.

Conclusion

Experts are taking different directions in developing a newer, more effective tuberculosis vaccine for babies and adults alike. In any case, prevention and early diagnosis are the key to preventing more serious TB side effects. So, if you have any of the risk factors mentioned or, if you have been diagnosed with HIV, practice injecting drug use, past your senior years, suffering from immune-compromising diseases or, have been treated for TB in the past, it may be high time to get yourself checked for TB.

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