Tuberculosis (Active TB) in Children: Care Instructions

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Lungs of a child

Your Care Instructions

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infection caused by bacteria. It usually occurs in the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of the body. TB spreads to other people through the air. When someone with TB breathes out or coughs, the bacteria can be breathed in by people who are nearby.

Symptoms of TB include a cough and a fever. Your child may feel tired and weak. And he or she may not feel like eating.

Treatment involves taking antibiotic medicines. It's very important to give your child the medicine as your doctor tells you to. It takes a long time to kill the TB bacteria. Treatment can last 4 to 9 months or longer. During treatment, your child will see a doctor for tests to see how the medicine is working. The doctor will help guide you through this long process.

Your child may have directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT ensures that your child gets the needed medicines on schedule. That's the best way to make sure that your child will be cured of TB. A public health official may be involved with your child's care.

Your child will start to feel better after taking the medicines for a few weeks. And he or she may not be able to infect others at this point. But don't send your child to school until your doctor tells you that it's okay.

Other people living in the home should be tested for TB. A positive TB test means that the person needs treatment to prevent active TB.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Give your child antibiotics as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Give the medicines with food to help avoid an upset stomach.
  • Teach your child to cover his or her mouth for a sneeze or cough. After coughs, throw the tissue away in a covered container.
  • Keep your child away from public areas such as buses, subways, and other closed areas until you have been told that your child cannot spread TB.
  • If your child doesn't have DOT, you can do things to remind yourself to give the medicines to your child.
    • Give the medicines at the same time every day.
    • Set a reminder alarm.
    • Use a pillbox.
    • Put a reminder note on your mirror or refrigerator.
    • Mark a calendar after you give the medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is short of breath.
  • Your child has a new or worse cough.
  • Your child is dizzy or light-headed, or feels like he or she may faint.
  • Your child has new or worse diarrhea.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child loses weight.
  • Your child has night sweats.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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