Extensive transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from a child

N Engl J Med. 1999 Nov 11;341(20):1491-5. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199911113412002.


Background and methods: Young children rarely transmit tuberculosis. In July 1998, infectious tuberculosis was identified in a nine-year-old boy in North Dakota who was screened because extrapulmonary tuberculosis had been diagnosed in his female guardian. The child, who had come from the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 1996, had bilateral cavitary tuberculosis. Because he was the only known possible source for his female guardian's tuberculosis, an investigation of the child's contacts was undertaken. We identified family, school, day-care, and other social contacts and notified these people of their exposure. We asked the contacts to complete a questionnaire and performed tuberculin skin tests.

Results: Of the 276 contacts of the child whom we tested, 56 (20 percent) had a positive tuberculin skin test (induration of at least 10 mm), including 3 of the child's 4 household members, 16 of his 24 classroom contacts, 10 of 32 school-bus riders, and 9 of 61 day-care contacts. A total of 118 persons received preventive therapy, including 56 young children who were prescribed preventive therapy until skin tests performed at least 12 weeks after exposure were negative. The one additional case identified was in the twin brother of the nine-year-old patient. The twin was not considered infectious on the basis of a sputum smear that was negative on microscopical examination.

Conclusions: This investigation showed that a young child can transmit Mycobacterium tuberculosis to a large number of contacts. Children with tuberculosis, especially cavitary or laryngeal tuberculosis, should be considered potentially infectious, and screening of their contacts for infection with M. tuberculosis or active tuberculosis may be required.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoniazid / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification
  • North Dakota / epidemiology
  • Schools
  • Tuberculin Test
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / epidemiology*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / prevention & control
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / transmission*


  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Isoniazid