Study seeks improved TB treatment for babies

Researchers in South Africa have begun searching for better, child-friendly tuberculosis treatments for babies in a bid to reduce the number of child deaths from the disease.

TB is among the leading causes of death among children in South Africa, but existing treatments for very young children, especially newborn babies, are not effective enough, according to Adrie Bekker of the Desmond Tutu TB Centre at Stellenbosh University who is leading the research.

The study is monitoring TB drug therapy in 200 babies under one year old who contracted the illness from their mothers or from family members. Babies born to mothers with TB or HIV are more likely to be premature or have low birth weights and have less immunity to infections like TB, Bekker said.

Babies at risk of TB are given the drug isoniazid but fewer than 10 percent of the children complete the six-month treatment because the medication is difficult to administer. “The tablets are big, hard to crush and taste bitter,” Bekker added.

The study will also look at ways of speeding up TB diagnosis in very young children. Diagnosis can be difficult because the usual symptoms such as night sweats or coughing for two weeks are often not present, Bekker said.

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