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  • Vaccine against tuberculosis (BCG)


Vaccine against tuberculosis (BCG)

Children in defined risk groups are offered the vaccine at the age of six weeks.

BCG-vaksine. Illustrasjon: Colourbox
BCG-vaccine. Illustrasjon: Colourbox

Children in defined risk groups are offered the vaccine at the age of six weeks.

The vaccine contains live, weakened tuberculosis bacteria, Bacille Calmette Guérin, and is called BCG. The vaccine is injected ,usually in the left upper arm. Normally a small "pimple" or a small weeping sore will appear at the injection site after a couple of weeks. The reaction usually disappears within a few weeks and lasts rarely more than 2-3 months.

Some people also get swollen lymph nodes that feel like pellets in the armpit. Most people, but not all, will get a small scar at the injection site. The protection develops 1–3 months after the vaccination and is long‐lasting.

It is recommended that the vaccine is given to infants at the age of six weeks. By vaccinating infants, protection is given particularly against the most serious forms of tuberculosis in the first years of life. In the event of infection risk in the surrounding environment, older children are also offered BCG vaccine. For these children, it may be necessary to perform a test in advance to check if they have already been exposed to infection and would therefore not benefit from the vaccine.

If a child has impaired health or uses medicines, the public health nurse must be informed before vaccination. People with HIV infection and other immune deficiency conditions should normally not have BCG vaccine. When vaccinating infants, the nurse must be informed if a mother has taken medicine that affects the immune system during pregnancy or breastfeeding because it may be necessary to postpone vaccination with this vaccine.

About the disease

Tuberculosis is caused by infection with tuberculosis bacteria. Only untreated pulmonary tuberculosis is contagious. The usual means of infection is droplet infection from a person who coughs up bacteria. About 10 per cent of those infected become ill, and many years can pass before the disease develops. The disease most often attacks the lungs but it can also result in infection in other organ systems such as the brain membranes, lymph nodes, intestines, bones, joints and kidneys.

Norway is among the countries in the world with the lowest incidence of tuberculosis, with 300-400 new cases each year. Up until 1997, there was a decline in the number of cases. In recent years, there has been a sharp increase because of increased immigration from countries with a high incidence of the disease. Nearly 90 per cent of those who become ill were born in countries with a high incidence of tuberculosis, and most were infected before they came to Norway. Even though the risk of being infected with tuberculosis in Norway is low, it can be higher in settings with a connection to countries where the disease is common. BCG vaccine is therefore offered to children who have such a connection.

Side effects

Local reactions that are greater or more prolonged than expected are rare. Swelling in a lymph node near the injection site can occur, which can be unpleasant but is not dangerous. In extremely rare cases, it may be necessary to provide medicinal treatment.

The vaccine used is called BCG-vaccine AJVaccines.