Treatment length can be reduced for children with tuberculosis, new research finds

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An international trial investigating the effectiveness of tuberculosis (TB) treatment in African and Indian children has revealed that treatment length can be reduced for those with a non-severe form of the disease.

The research, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, and led by researchers from the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at University College London (UCL) found that the treatment duration for the majority of children with drug-sensitive TB can be shortened from six to four months. According to the trial entitled, “Shorter Treatment for Minimal TB in Children (SHINE), two-thirds of children with TB have a non-severe form of the disease.

Researchers worked with partners in South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and India on a randomized control trial to assess whether children with “minimal” TB could be effectively treated with a shorter course of treatment. Until now children’s treatment length had been based on the results of trials in adults, requiring six months of a combination of daily medicine. As children on TB treatment often stay home from school, this also increases the burden on caregivers.

The trial involved 1,204 children aged from two months up to 16 years old with non-severe TB, who were divided randomly into two groups to take either four or six months of treatment with anti-TB medicines. Eleven percent of the participating children were living with HIV. A follow-up was scheduled for 18 months after enrollment to gauge whether the treatment was successful.

The results showed that children who received the shorter course did as well as those on the standard six-month treatment, regardless of the age group, country, or HIV status, with few and similar side effects in both groups.

In 2020, an estimated 1.1 million children fell ill with TB globally, according to the research.