Background: The occurrence of tuberculosis (TB) among children has long been neglected as a public health concern. However, any child with TB is a sentinel event indicating recent transmission. Vaccination, early case finding and treatment of those latently infected with TB can prevent cases, severe morbidity and unnecessary death.
Method: The objective of the study was to describe the occurrence of TB events among children in the Netherlands which may be avoided through preventive measures. For this purpose we performed a trend analysis of routine Dutch TB and LTBI (surveillance data in 1993-2012 and a descriptive analysis of children with TB and with LTBI diagnosed in 2005-2012).
Results: Overall childhood TB incidence has declined over the last two decades from 3.6 in 1993 to 1.9 per 100,000 children in 2012. The decline was stronger among Dutch-born children compared to foreign-born children. In 2005-2012 64% of childhood TB cases were detected through active case finding. Foreign-born children with TB were less likely to be detected through active case finding, when not detected through post-entry TB screening. Childhood TB diagnosis was culture confirmed in 68% of passively detected cases and 12% of actively detected cases. Of 1,049 children with LTBI started on preventive treatment in 2005-2012, 90% completed treatment. In 37% of all childhood TB cases there was at least one 'missed opportunity' for prevention. Thirty nine percent of child TB patients eligible for BCG were not vaccinated.
Conclusion: Children with TB in the Netherlands are generally detected at an early stage and treatment completion rates are high. However, more TB cases among children can be prevented through enhancing TB case finding and screening and preventive treatment of latent TB infection among migrant children, and improving the coverage of BCG vaccination among eligible risk groups.