Jarvis’ story reminds us that action must be taken to address TB as a children’s health issue, and new tools and targeted efforts are needed to eliminate TB as a leading killer of children.
In 2009 eleven-year-old Jarvis started experiencing chest pains, night sweats, spiking temperatures, loss of appetite and breathlessness. Despite this plethora of symptoms, it took another nine months before Jarvis was diagnosed with TB and received the necessary treatment.
“I’d been sick for a year and eventually my mum took me to the GP, and he did a sputum test. Before this I had been to the hospital, and they told me I had pneumonia and bronco spasm. I had been reviewed by 16 different healthcare professionals and given five courses of antibiotics and an inhaler.
Once I was diagnosed with TB I had to undergo treatment, which lasts for six months or more. It was hard at first when I was taking all the medicines (eight tablets plus syrup), but once it got cut down it was much easier. I had to take it all before school and wait 30 minutes before I ate, so it sometimes caused problems.
I missed two months of school after I had just started high school, and I couldn’t play football. I felt guilty when my friends had to undergo tests for TB, but they were fantastic – sending me get-well messages and chatting to me about TB on MSN.”
Jarvis’s mum, Linda, says she and her husband felt guilty when he was finally diagnosed, as they are both nurses and felt they should have detected the TB themselves.
“We tried not to show it, but we were very worried. We knew he was sick and getting sicker, but no matter what treatment he received he was not getting better. Neither my husband nor I considered TB because Jarvis had had a BCG [TB vaccine] as a baby and he had tested negative after a teacher at his school was diagnosed with TB.”
Jarvis has recovered from TB and is playing football again for his school and a community team.
He says: “I want people to know that TB can be cured, and you can still do what you want to do in life even if you have had TB.”
While TB is most common in those living in poverty, it can affect anyone in the world and often goes undetected. The BCG vaccine – the only TB vaccine currently available – was developed over 90 years ago and only protects children from some forms of paediatric TB. It offers limited protection for adults. Jarvis’s case shows that new vaccines are desperately needed to prevent all forms of TB.