Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterim tuberculosis. Unlike many infectious diseases, TB is difficult to catch; only a third of people who are in close contact with a person with TB will become infected. Children, however, are particularly vulnerable to the disease.
BCG is the only vaccine currently available for protection against TB and with nearly half of all UK case of TB occurring in London. Dr Dionysios Alexandrou, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital, shares his insights into the importance of the BCG vaccination.
How common is Tuberculosis in the UK?
Over 8,000 people a year get TB in the UK, and 400 die as a result of it. More than 300 children under the age of 15 diagnosed with the Tuberculosis disease every year and nearly half of all the cases of TB in the UK occur in London.
How does the BCG vaccination protect against TB?
BCG is the only vaccine currently available for protection against TB. It contains a weakened form of the bacterium, Mycobacterim tuberculosis, and once administered will stimulate the immune system the body protect against TB.
Why is the BCG not a routine vaccination in the UK?
The BCG vaccine is currently given to about three quarters of infants worldwide, but many developed countries that have a low burden of TB have opted to refrain from giving this vaccination routinely.
Whilst BCG is currently not recommended for routine immunisation in the UK, it is recommended for infants living in areas with more than 40 cases of TB per 100,000 population per year, as well as those whose parents or grandparents are from countries with at least that incidence.
How is the BCG vaccine Administered?
Infants less than 6 months of age do not need to be tested with a tuberculin skin test (the Mantoux test), before administration of BCG, but those over 6 months of age do.
Should this test prove negative, the BCG vaccination is then administered as a single injection into the skin.
At what age should a child have the BCG vaccination?
Newborn babies can get the BCG vaccine soon after birth. Clinical trials have shown that BCG is about 80% effective in preventing the disease when given to newborn babies who have never encountered Mycobacterim tuberculosis.
What should I expect after the vaccine?
The BCG vaccine is given as an injection just beneath the surface of the skin and a small lump appears on the skin as the injection is being given.
Approximately 3-6 weeks later, a small red pimple usually appears at the site of the injection. The pimple will remain for a number of weeks and there may be a slight discharge. A scab may form over the injection site and may leave a small scar when it heals.
Are there any side effects from the BCG vaccination?
Allergic reactions to BCG vaccination are rare but a small number of people may get swollen glands under the arm. More severe reactions can include ulcers or abscess formations.
Some useful tips for caring for caring for your child’s BCG injection
Your child can be bathed as normal, and there is no need to protect the area of the injection with a plaster. However, if you find that the pimple begins to ooze, cover it with a dry dressing and change it regularly.
You may also wish to dress you child in clothing that is lose around the area that the vaccination was given but do not use cream, oils or ointments on the pimple even there is a discharge.
Where can I go for further help and advice?
If you are worried about immunisations or whether your child might be showing symptoms of something more serious, then leading paediatricians like Dr Dion Alexandrou at The Portland Hospital are available to help. Call us on 020 7580 4400.