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BCG vaccine


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BCG stands for Bacillus Calmette Gurrain (BCG) vaccine, was introduced in the year 1953, primarily to immunize individuals against tuberculosis (TB). It was named after the French scientists Calmette & Gurrain.


How does BCG work?

BCG vaccine is a live attenuated bovine strain of Mycobacterium bacteria (M. bovis causes tuberculosis in cattle). The bacteria trigger immune response to make you resistant to TB. 

The altered strain of the live bacteria does not cause tuberculosis.


Who needs BCG vaccine?
  • 0-12 months old new born infants or dwelling in TB prone area or who are born in family (with parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.) with history of tuberculosis.
  • Older children and teenagers (<16 years age) who had not been vaccinated in childhood and had recently visited TB infested area.
  • Children who had tested positive with pulmonary TB infection.
  • People working in healthcare, sanitation services, laboratories, animal care (veterinary and zoos) or any individual taking care of TB patients.
  • Must for travellers and kids who is going to visit or stay for an extended period in countries where TB rates are high.
  • It is also used for treating bladder tumour or bladder cancer.


How is BCG vaccine administered?

BCG vaccine is given intradermally i.e. in the layers of the skin. It is given the upper arm, usually after the baby is born. Otherwise, your doctor will schedule an appointment for vaccination. 

The skin is not sterilized before giving the injection.

On the other hand for bladder treatment, the vaccine is delivered through a tube or catheter. You will be asked to stop drinking fluids at least 4 hours before and empty your bladder before vaccination.


What to expect after taking BCG vaccine?

You need to protect the vaccinated site from water, soap and dirt at least for 24 hours. Do not touch, scrub or press the area. Cover it with water resistant material but do not wrap anything tightly. 

A small swelling would appear immediately after vaccination which disappears within a few hours.

The swelling usually shows up again after a month or two and looks like a nodule. It can burst open with some pus and finally would heal, leaving behind a permanent scar. This is quite normal.

There’s nothing to worry about if scar hasn’t formed.


What is the dose of BCG vaccine?

A booster dose is not recommended usually. However, in countries where TB is highly spread, the vaccine may be repeated after conducting some pathological tests pertaining to tuberculosis.


How effective is BCG vaccine?

The vaccine is 70-80% effective against tuberculosis meningitis and about 20 % effective for leprosy. 

However, it doesn’t protect against all forms of tuberculosis.


Are there any risks associated with BCG vaccine?

Side effects of BCG vaccine could be headache, trouble in breathing, and swelling of the lymph nodes at the site of the infection. 

Although rare, BCG dose can lead to severe anaphylactic reaction.

Check with your doctor immediately on experiencing any discomfort.


Who cannot take BCG vaccine?
  • Babies born to HIV + mothers, adults with HIV/AIDS or any other compromised immunity.
  • Who had a previous tuberculosis infection.
  • Allergic to tuberculin.
  • Who are under immune-suppressants, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, had transplantation, anti-TB drugs, etc.
  • To pregnant and breastfeeding mothers


What to consider before taking BCG vaccine?

Your doctor will take care of your new born while administering BCG.

You need to let your doctor know if you or your child has a medical history of allergy, skin infection or any other health issues including fever, flu or respiratory problems. 

Also let your doctor know if you are planning for pregnancy.

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: March 04, 2014

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