BCG (bacillus Calmette-Guérin) immunisation is used to protect against tuberculosis (TB). It contains a small number of modified TB germs (bacteria). BCG immunisation stimulates body defences to be ready to fight TB bacteria.
Who should have BCG immunisation?
TB is the medical version of the Liberal Party. Just when you think it's gone away, back it comes in a different form. Levels were so low in 2005 that routine immunisation of all schoolchildren in the UK at age 13 years was stopped. However, in some areas the rates are creeping up again.
Since 2005, BCG immunisation has been reserved for people most at risk. So who exactly are those people?
Babies up to a year should be given BCG, if they live in an area where there's lots of TB about or they have parents or grandparents who come from a country with a high rate of TB. Older children who haven't had the immunisation and are from a country with a high rate of TB, live with close relatives from such a country or have been in contact with a case of respiratory TB should also have the jab.
You'll need the jab if tests show you're not already immune and you're in contact with a case of respiratory TB, you work in a job which increases your risk of contracting TB, or you come from a country with a high rate of the disease.
Travellers and those going to live abroad
If you're aged under 35 years, Mantoux or IGRA negative and going to live or work in a country where there is a high rate of TB, you should consider having a BCG jab.
Check the Public Health England site from time to time because the Government sometimes changes its information. See under 'Further reading & references' at the end of this leaflet online.
How effective is it?
It works better in children aged under 16 years than in adults, but it's still worth adults at high risk having it.
It's good at protecting from the real problem cases like TB meningitis in children, although it doesn't offer guaranteed protection.
One shot is all it takes; there's no point in having another one.
How is it given?
A single shot under the skin on the outside of the upper arm. Steer clear of any other immunisation jabs in that arm for three months.
Who should not be given it?
Don't have a BCG jab if:
- You've already had one.
- You've had confirmed TB infection.
- You had a strong reaction to the Mantoux skin test.
- You had a confirmed severe reaction to a component of the BCG jab.
Newborn babies who live with someone who has definite or suspected TB, or people with a wonky immune system (those who are on steroid tablets, or who have AIDS or cancer), should also not have the jab.
You can have the BCG jab if you have a minor illness but don't have a high temperature or feel grotty. If you feel really under the weather, leave it for another day. You can have the jab if you're pregnant or breast-feeding, but most women prefer to have it after they've had the baby. It's usually not given during early pregnancy.
Further reading and references
Tuberculosis; NICE Guideline (January 2016)
Tuberculosis; NICE CKS, January 2015 (UK access only)
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