Tuberculosis (Latent TB) in Children: Care Instructions

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Latent tuberculosis (TB) means that your child has bacteria in their body that could cause active TB disease. Your child can't spread the bacteria to other people at this time. But if your child's immune system can't keep the bacteria from growing, the disease becomes active. People with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop active TB.

With active TB in the lungs, your child can spread the disease to others. Active TB is a serious disease.

Latent TB doesn't have any symptoms. You may even be surprised that your child has it, since they don't look or feel sick. It's very important to give your child the antibiotic medicine as your doctor tells you to. This treatment protects your child from getting active TB. It takes a long time to rid the body of TB. Treatment can last many months. During treatment your child will see the doctor for tests to see how the medicine is working.

The type of antibiotic your child takes and how long they will take it will depend on your child's age and other health factors. Your doctor will help guide you through the process.

Your child may have directly observed therapy (DOT). This means that you meet with a health care worker when your child takes medicine. DOT helps with taking the medicine on schedule. And it helps your child complete treatment as soon as possible. The doctor will let you know if your child needs DOT.

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 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. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If your child has an upset stomach while taking the medicine, ask your doctor if it's okay to take it with food.
  • If you forgot to give your child the medicine, give the dose as soon as you can if it's the same day. Do not give two doses at the same time. If the day has passed, then give the next scheduled dose. Tell your doctor or public health worker that a dose was missed so your child's treatment schedule can be adjusted.
  • If your child doesn't have DOT, there are things you can do to help remind yourself to give the medicine:
    • Give the medicine 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.
  • Your child coughs up a lot of blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is short of breath.
  • Your child has a new or worse cough.
  • Your child coughs up a small amount of blood.
  • Your child is dizzy or lightheaded, or feels about to faint.
  • Your child has new or worse diarrhea.

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

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

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.