THURSDAY, Oct. 13, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The widely used BCG vaccine can help protect children from getting tuberculosis, in addition to its known ability to fight active TB, British researchers report.
TB remains a major killer of children and adults, with an estimated one in three people infected with the bacterium and 10 million cases of TB reported worldwide each year.
However, "our findings show that children can be protected against TB infection by vaccination and this opens a new door for the development of new, improved vaccines," researcher Ajit Lalvani of the University of Oxford said in a prepared statement.
His team published its findings online Oct. 12 in The Lancet medical journal.
BCG is the most widely used vaccine in the world but the way in which it provides protection is poorly understood. It's believed that BCG prevents progression of TB infection to active TB. Until this study, the question of whether BCG could also protect against acquiring TB infection had not been investigated in humans.
The study included 979 children in Turkey who lived in households where at least one adult had contracted TB. Of those children, 770 had a distinctive scar indicating they had previously been vaccinated with the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) anti-tuberculosis vaccine. The researchers used the T-cell based blood test called ELISpot and the tuberculin skin-prick test to check the children for TB infection.
The absence of a BCG scar was a strong independent risk factor for infection in children exposed to TB, while the presence of a BCG scar was associated with a 24 percent reduced risk of TB infection, the study found.
The American Lung Association has more about TB.