Newborns can be exposed to the bacteria in various ways.
Symptoms include fever, reduced energy, and difficulty breathing.
The diagnosis may involve a chest x-ray, a blood test, examination and culture of fluid and tissue samples, and a spinal tap.
An antibiotic may be given to infants who have been exposed to someone who has an active infection even if they are not sick.
Infected newborns and pregnant women are given antibiotics to treat the infection.
(See also Overview of Infections in Newborns Overview of Infections in Newborns Infections occur at all ages but are a great cause for concern in newborns because newborns, especially preterm ones, have an underdeveloped immune system and are more susceptible to infection... read more and Tuberculosis Tuberculosis (TB) Tuberculosis is a chronic contagious infection caused by the airborne bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually affects the lungs, but almost any organ can be involved. Tuberculosis... read more in adults.)
Infants become infected when they are exposed to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Infants can be exposed in several ways:
Before birth: Infection occurs if the bacteria cross the placenta (the organ that provides nourishment to the fetus) and infect the fetus.
During birth: Infection occurs if the newborn breathes in or ingests infected fluid from the birth canal.
After birth: Infection occurs if the newborn inhales infected droplets that have been coughed or sneezed into the air by family members or nursery personnel.
About 50% of children born to mothers who have an active tuberculosis infection in their lungs develop the infection during the first year of life unless preventive antibiotics or a vaccine called bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is given. People who have an active tuberculosis infection in their lungs are sick and can spread the disease to others.
Symptoms of TB in Newborns
Some newborns may have no symptoms.
Newborns may look ill and may have fever, reduced energy, difficulty breathing, or difficult-to-treat pneumonia. They may have a delay in weight gain and physical growth (failure to thrive Failure to Thrive in Children Failure to thrive is a delay in weight gain and physical growth that can lead to delays in development and maturation. Medical disorders and a lack of proper nutrition are causes of failure... read more ). Because tuberculosis usually affects multiple organs, newborns may also have an enlarged liver and spleen.
Diagnosis of TB in Newborns
Examination and culture of fluid and tissue samples
Sometimes skin testing
Some newborns need testing and some do not.
Newborns who need testing
Any newborn who has symptoms that suggest tuberculosis or who was born to a mother who has an active tuberculosis infection receives the following tests:
Examination and culture of fluid and tissue samples
Sometimes tuberculosis skin test
A chest x-ray may show signs of tuberculosis.
Fluid and tissue samples are taken from the throat, stomach, urine, and placenta. These samples are examined under a microscope to look for tuberculosis bacteria and are used to grow the bacteria in a culture Culture of Microorganisms Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Doctors suspect an infection based on the person's symptoms, physical examination results,... read more .
A spinal tap Spinal Tap Diagnostic procedures may be needed to confirm a diagnosis suggested by the medical history and neurologic examination. Imaging tests commonly used to diagnose nervous system (neurologic) disorders... read more (lumbar puncture) is done to obtain a sample of spinal fluid for testing.
Blood tests are done to determine whether the newborn has any other infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection in Children and Adolescents Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is a viral infection that progressively destroys certain white blood cells and makes people more vulnerable to other infections and some cancers... read more .
Sometimes newborns are given a tuberculosis skin test. In this test, a small amount of protein derived from tuberculosis bacteria (tuberculin) is injected just under the skin. About 2 days later, the injection site is checked. If the injection site is larger than a certain size, the test is considered positive, indicating that the newborn has been infected with the tuberculosis bacteria. However, sometimes the test does not show infection even if the newborn is infected. In these cases, if doctors are still concerned, they may do additional tests.
Newborns who may need testing
Any newborn who looks well and whose mother has a positive skin test but no signs of tuberculosis on a chest x-ray and no evidence of an active tuberculosis infection should be closely monitored by doctors. All their household members should be evaluated. If after the evaluation doctors determine the newborn has not been exposed to an active tuberculosis infection, the newborn does not need treatment or testing. If after the evaluation doctors determine the newborn has been exposed to an active tuberculosis infection, the newborn is given the tests described above.
Prevention of TB in Newborns
Doctors typically give the antibiotic isoniazid to infants who have been exposed to an active tuberculosis infection even if they are not ill because this medication helps prevent the infection from becoming active.
In medically underserved areas of the world, where the risk of developing tuberculosis is higher, newborns are routinely given a vaccine called bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) to help prevent childhood tuberculosis. Doctors usually do not recommend the BCG vaccine for people living in high-resource countries where the risk of infection is lower.
Treatment of TB in Newborns
Newborns who have an active tuberculosis infection may be treated with a combination of the antibiotics isoniazid, rifampin, pyrazinamide, ethionamide, and ethambutol and sometimes other medications.
Newborns who have a positive skin test or who are exposed to active tuberculosis after birth are given isoniazid to prevent the infection from developing.
In newborns, all medications for tuberculosis are taken for 6 months or longer.
Pregnant women who are at high risk of developing tuberculosis are given isoniazid along with supplemental vitamin B6 (pyridoxine Vitamin B6 Deficiency Vitamin B6 is in most foods, but people can have vitamin B6 deficiency if they do not absorb it properly. Many foods contain vitamin B6, but extensive processing can remove the vitamin. People... read more ) for 9 months. Some women exposed to tuberculosis during pregnancy may not be given isoniazid and vitamin B6 until after the first trimester or after delivery depending on their risk of developing active tuberculosis.
Pregnant women who have an active tuberculosis infection are given a combination of isoniazid, ethambutol, and rifampin for at least 9 months or longer.