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Tuberculosis in Teens

by Sara Ipatenco, studioD

In the 1920s, tuberculosis, or TB, was the eighth-leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4, according to the KidsHealth website. In the years since, improved medical care and increased standards of living in the U.S. have dramatically decreased the number of TB cases among children. That doesn't mean, however, that your teen isn't susceptible to the illness. In fact, according to KidsHealth, TB is once again on the rise among certain populations, which can increase your teen's risk of being exposed to the bacteria that causes the disease.

Definition and Prevalence

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs, but can spread to other organs without proper treatment. While TB isn't common among healthy teens, it isn't out of the question that your teen might be exposed to the bacteria that causes it. The majority of people with TB were born in other countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and most of them were from places without adequate medical care or places without proper sanitation. Teens who travel to foreign countries or don't receive regular medical care are at the highest risk for developing TB. Teens with a compromised immune system also have a higher chance for contracting the illness.


A teen contracts TB when she is exposed to the bacteria from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. A healthy teen would catch TB by inhaling the droplets in a cough or a sneeze, which causes the bacteria to migrate into her lungs. In most cases, a teen's body fights off the germs and she doesn't develop symptoms, according to HealthyChildren.org. Even if she doesn't develop symptoms, however, she still needs to have a TB test because she could develop the full-blown disease later in life, if she's not treated immediately.


Though most teens don't develop symptoms, it's not unheard of that your teen would develop signs of TB in the days and weeks after exposure to the illness. This usually occurs if a teen that's exposed to TB isn't treated right away. The most common symptoms of TB include a persistent cough, fever, fatigue, weakness, night sweats, weight loss and swollen glands. Though rare in children older than 4 years of age, the TB bacteria can also get into the bloodstream and cause damage to organs and increase the risk of tuberculosis meningitis, which can cause brain and nervous system disorders, according to HealthyChildren.org.


If your teen has come into close contact with someone who has TB, make an appointment with his doctor immediately. His doctor will perform a tuberculin skin test, which involves an injection of purified TB into the skin of the arm. If your teen has TB, the skin around the injection site will become swollen and red. After 48 to 72 hours, your teen's doctor will check the site to determine whether he's been infected with the bacteria. Teens at high risk for TB, such as those who live in areas where the disease is prevalent, those who live with an adult who has a disease that compromises the immune system or with an adult that was recently in prison, might need to be tested regularly to ensure that they haven't contracted the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your teen does have TB, his doctor will decide the best course of treatment based on his health history, but it usually includes one or more rounds of oral medications.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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