Tuberculosis Vaccine Schedule, Benefits and Side Effects

Tuberculosis Vaccine

Tuberculosis is a serious infection that in most cases affects the lungs. In these cases, it may be referred to as pulmonary tuberculosis, and the associated symptoms may include those of the respiratory symptom, as well as other generalized symptoms of the condition such as fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss and night sweats. Since nearly ninety percent of all tuberculosis cases affect the lungs, tuberculosis symptoms almost always include coughing, and sputum containing streaks of blood or coughing up blood may occur.

Understanding tuberculosis contagious properties relates to the conditions latent presence. Many people (estimated to be as many as a third of the population) have been infected with the bacteria that cause the illness at one point or another. When this contagiousness becomes problematic however is when an active infection develops. In these cases, serious illness occurs and without treatment, up to half of those with an active infection may die. It is exactly for this reason that a tuberculosis vaccine can be very valuable, especially to those in high risk occupations where contact with the illness may be more likely.

The vaccine, known as Bacillle Calmette-Guerrin (BGC), is typically although not always, effective at staving off active tuberculosis infections. It is uncommon in the United States and other countries where the infection is rare, however is abundant in other countries where active cases of TB are common. Typically, the tuberculosis vaccine is given to infants in these countries, in order to prevent cases of the illness. The vaccine however is used as an important means of tuberculosis prevention in developed countries in certain individuals who may be exposed to the infection such as those who work in hospitals or nursing homes or those who work commonly with the sick or elderly.

Unlike many other types of vaccinations, subsequent booster vaccinations of BCG are not recommended. The immunization is given as one single dose either to infants in developing countries or to adults that are in high risk areas or occupations. However, it is worth noting that studies suggest that the vaccine may become less effective at preventing the infection after a period of ten years.

The obvious benefits of the tuberculosis vaccine include a reduced risk of contracting the infection from persons who are ill. For individuals who may come into contact with people who are infected, the vaccine can greatly reduce the chances of catching the illness. Aside from occupational hazards, the vaccine may also be useful in people who are planning on traveling abroad to countries where the infection is more common. It is worth noting however that the effectiveness of the vaccine is limited to between 70 and 80 percent, thus being no guarantee of not contracting the illness.

There are few serious or long term side effects of the tuberculosis vaccine. In some people, the site of injection may become swollen, red or irritated. More serious reactions may include ulcers at the injection site or swelling of the lymph nodes or lymph nodes that fill with pus, sometimes to the point of requiring drainage. In rare cases, the use of the live virus in the TB vaccine may lead to a meningitis infection, or a whole body TB infection. Sometimes, Tb infections may affect the bone growth center, and these can lay dormant for years following a vaccination.
The only form of tuberculosis treatment is heavy doses of antibiotics. In most cases, multiples types of antibiotics are used. This is for multiple reasons. The infection tends to be quite defensible against antibiotics, making treatment with a single medication difficult. Additionally, antibiotic resistance can develop in some individuals, making the multi medication approach more successful. In many cases, this antibiotic therapy may continue for a year and a half to two years following the onset of an active infection.

The tuberculosis vaccine is not commonly used in developing countries because the infection is much less common in these regions. However, it is incredibly important in countries where the infection is more common. It is also a vital part of prevention and protection for health care workers and others who may be exposed to the illness, regardless of geographical location. As the incidence of TB rises gradually in many parts of the world, it is unlikely that the tuberculosis vaccine will be used less. Rather it is more likely to be more commonplace when the risk of spreading the infection becomes more of a reality.