There’s a health topic that has been buzzing around the São Paulo international mom crowd – whether or not to get our kids (and ourselves) a tuberculosis vaccination.
When we first arrived, my daughter’s pediatrician went through her vaccination data and gave it the thumbs up. Since she spent her first couple years in the U.S. where pediatricians no longer prescribe the vaccination, she had not received a TB shot. And I thought nothing of it.
But as of late, both in the U.S. and in Brazil, there has been a lot of illness in the air. Recently, a friend’s Brazilian doctor told her that she definitely needed to get her two children a tuberculosis vaccination. And one for herself. Hmmm… so what to do?
There is a pretty good argument on both sides.
Pro TB shot:
1. Tuberculosis is a nasty, nasty disease.
2. Treatment is difficult and can take months
3. Like 6 to 9 months.
Anti TB shot:
1. The risks are very low, at least for my child, according to our pediatrician.
2. The shot is very painful.
3. The shot can leave a scar.
4. The vaccination can generate a false positive for TB.
5. In a developed society (which I consider at least São Paulo city proper to be) it seems rather difficult to get TB. Like you’d have to almost try.
According to the Center for Disease Control, TB is spread “through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.” So you actually have to get close to someone with TB, close enough for the person to sneeze or sing on you, to catch it. The CDC also explains that TB is NOT spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing.
Even if the bacteria does get you, the risk for actually acquiring the disease, according to CDC, are high if you:
- have HIV infection
- have other health problems, like diabetes, that make it hard for the body to fight bacteria
- abuse alcohol or uses illegal drugs
- were not treated correctly for TB infection in the past
Treatment for latent TB, which means you’ve been exposed to the bacteria but not the disease, is actually optional. In the U.S., it is mostly used to control the spread of the bacteria and in an attempt to eliminate the disease.
However, if you or your child DO acquire the actual TB disease, you’ll wish you’d bothered to get the shot. Treatment lasts six to nine months and involves a lot of pills. If you don’t do it exactly as prescribed, not only might you get sick again, but you could make the bacteria stronger and more resistant.
The World Health Organization develops a profile for each country with statistics around the disease. The prevalence of TB in Brazil is much higher and the country has a higher TB mortality rate than the U.S. But compared to countries like South Africa or the Philippines, Brazil has it under control.
Today, we had a visit with my daughter’s pediatrician. He reiterated his opinion that she was low risk and the vaccination wasn’t necessary. As I trust him, I’ll go with his view.
But what about you?