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    Home > Childhood Immunisation > Vaccine Preventable Diseases  > Tuberculosis


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What is Tuberculosis- T.B.?

Tuberculosis (T.B.) is a disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In Ireland TB usually affects the lungs but it can affect other parts of the body such as the glands, bones, joints , kidney and it can affect the brain causing meningitis (inflammation of the lining around the brain).

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How do people get TB?

TB is usually spread by droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You need to have close and prolonged contact an infected person to catch T.B. such as sharing a house, in schools, close contact with a child minder, friend or co-worker.

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Who are most at risk of catching TB?

The following people have a greater chance of becoming ill with TB, if exposed to it:

Those in very close contact with infectious people

  • Children
  • Elderly people
  • Diabetics
  • People on steroids
  • People on other drugs affecting the body’s immune system
  • People who are HIV positive
  • People in overcrowded, poor housing
  • People with chronic poor health

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What are the symptoms of TB?

Symptoms of TB can include any of the following:

  • Fever and Night sweats
  • Cough (generally lasting more than 2 weeks)
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in the sputum (phlegm) at any time
  • Swollen glands
  • Tiredness
  • loss of appetite

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How serious is TB?

TB is a serious illness. The most serious complications are

  • Major bleeding from the lungs (Rare)
  • Death (this occurs in 7% of cases, usually elderly people)

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How common is T.B.?

The combination of better living conditions, antibiotics against TB, and BCG vaccine has dramatically reduced the number of cases of TB in Ireland.

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What is the treatment for T.B.?

With effective treatment it is possible to make a full recovery from T.B. It is treated with tablets, which must be taken for about 6 months. Without treatment, many people used to die from TB. It is essential to take the treatment regularly and to complete the course as prescribed.

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What is BCG?

The BCG vaccine protects against Tuberculosis (T.B).

BCG vaccination is usually given to newborn babies, but can also be given to older children and adults who are considered to be at risk of developing TB. The new version of the BCG leaflet is available here for download. It is also available in the following languages English, Irish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, French, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Romanian

BCG has contributed to the dramatic decline in TB over the past 40 years;

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What is in the BCG vaccine?

The vaccine contains a weakened (“attenuated”) form of a bacteria related to the one that causes tuberculosis. This stimulates the immune system to protect against tuberculosis.

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Is BCG Vaccine safe?

Yes BCG vaccine is safe. Of the people who are immunised:

Most people will get a blister and scarring on the arm where the BCG injection was given

  • 1 in 100 may get small swollen glands under the arm
  • Up to 1 in 1000 may get an infection, which responds to treatment.

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How effective is BCG vaccine?

BCG vaccine is effective in preventing the childhood forms of TB i.e. TB meningitis and miliary (disseminated TB) and is less efficacious in preventing adult TB.

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Are there any medications taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding that interfere with BCG vaccine?

Some medication including steroids or drugs that affect the immune system taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding can interfere with the response of BCG vaccine. Please advise the doctor or nurse at the BCG clinic if you have been on any medication whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.

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What is the normal reaction to BCG vaccine?

The expected reaction to a sucessful BCG vaccination seen in 90-95% of reciepients is redness at the injection site followed by a lesion, which starts as a papule two or more weeks after vaccination. It may ulcerate and then slowly subside over several weeks or months to heal leaving a small flat scar. It may also include enlargment of a regional lymph node to less than 1cm.

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My baby has already had a dose of 6 in 1 vaccine. Can they still get BCG vaccine? 

Yes. BCG can be given at the same time as any killed vaccine therefore it can be given with 6 in 1 vaccine or at any time interval between 2 doses of 6  in 1 vaccine. However, it is important you get all vaccines on time to get the best benefits for your baby.

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Where can I find out more?

You can ask for further information regarding immunisation from your G.P., Public Health Nurse or local health office

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This section was updated on 30th January 2013
Health Protection Surveillance Centre The Department of Health and Children Irish College Of General Practitioner