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Tuberculosis disease in children

Lisa V Adams, MD
Jeffrey R Starke, MD
Section Editors
C Fordham von Reyn, MD
Morven S Edwards, MD
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Formal policies and control efforts addressing tuberculosis (TB) in children have been limited, in part due to lack of a standardized case definition and difficulties associated with establishing a definitive diagnosis [1]. However, since diagnostic and treatment tools for TB in children have begun to improve significantly, TB in children has received increasing attention by researchers, clinicians, and policy makers.

Issues related to TB disease in children will be reviewed here. Issues related to diagnosis and treatment of latent TB infection in children are discussed in detail separately. (See "Latent tuberculosis infection in children".)


Global epidemiology — Estimating the global burden of tuberculosis (TB) disease in children is challenging due to the lack of a standard case definition, the difficulty in establishing a definitive diagnosis, the frequency of extrapulmonary disease in young children, and the relatively low public health priority given to TB in children relative to adults [2].

The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes global TB data including new and relapse cases by age. In its 2017 report, the WHO estimates that, of the 10.4 million incident cases of TB in 2016, approximately 1 million occurred among children under age 15 [3]. Of the 10.4 million incident cases of TB reported in 2016, 6.9 percent were in children with an equal number of males and females [3]. In 2017, the WHO and colleagues estimated that there were 239,000 pediatric deaths due to TB (39,000 occurring in HIV-infected children) [4]. Approximately 80 percent of these deaths occurred in children under age five [4].

Children under age five represent an important demographic group for understanding TB epidemiology, since TB frequently progresses rapidly from latent infection to disease, and severe disease manifestations, such as miliary TB and meningitis, are more common in this age group. Therefore, these children serve as sentinel cases, indicating recent and/or ongoing transmission in the community.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 30, 2017.
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