Study: Tuberculosis Affects About 1M Kids Every Year


Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School published startling results in the Lancet journal Sunday evening when they found that about 1 million children under the age of 15 contract tuberculosis around the world every year. That’s twice as many as health experts originally thought. The Wall Street Journal reported on the study Sunday night and said that about 32,000 of those affected have drug-resistant strains of the airborne disease.

According to the Journal, doctors and public health officials have long centered their attention on TB in the way it affects adults because those patients are known to be infectious. However, the researchers’ latest findings unveiled evidence that children, too, might be capable of spreading the disease. Mercedes Becerra, associate professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-senior author of the story, explained to the publication that the children’s TB is a sign of infection or disease in adult family members and others around them.

The Wall Street Journal said that the authors based their estimates on data derived from several sources of data and made an estimate on the number of children whose TB is believed to be missed with a test using a patient’s sputum. However, their most recent numbers don’t match up with those from a number of different research agencies — that’s because the methodology for determining how many children are affected by TB is still evolving.

The first pediatric TB estimates only started becoming available about three years ago, which explains how the researchers can put their number of children affected at 1 million while the World Health Organization still estimates that about 530,000 children develop TB every year.

TB is hard to diagnose in children because experts enlist different methods of diagnosis than they use on adults. According to the Journal, the disease also affects children differently, and at least 30 percent of children develop the disease in parts of their body other than their lungs.

Until recently, it wasn’t clear just how sick children can get after contracting the disease. In addition, before the study was published Sunday, there was no evidence to suggest that drug-resistant TB in children was necessarily something to share concern about because there was less evidence detailing how far it could spread. Now, it has become increasingly clear that difficult-to-treat strains are spreading across the world and affecting even more children than originally thought.

Though the recent news regarding TB in children is not good news, it is still important for health experts to know because they need to recognize their missed opportunities at preventing the disease every year. Accurate numbers for those who have TB are also necessary in order to secure a sufficient amount of funding for the research of the disease.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to Jeffrey Starke, a pediatric TB expert at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, who explained the funding that goes to the disease: “People interested in child survival and the Millennium Development Goals are going to look for what diseases are causing most morbidity and mortality in the world.”

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: