12 March 2012

Bitten by BCG

A few people have wondered about the “disgusting bite” Ani has on her arm. Well it was the BCG bug. Or rather, her vaccine for tuberculosis. The BCG vaccine is kind of a funny one. Ani got it about 3 months ago during our Christmas trip to South Africa. It’s taken this long for her to have a reaction. I'll spare you the details of the extent of its grossness, but I've even heard a certain unnamed medical professional call it gross.

Charlotte had the same reaction, except we were totally taken off guard. Because she was born in South Africa, they automatically give the BCG at birth. You can imagine our surprise when 3 months later this happened to our new baby’s arm.

Our pediatrician in Cape Town didn’t even think of telling us what to expect because the BCG vaccine is so common (outside the US). Thanks. That’s the type of thing first-time parents love having to figure out on their own. Dangerous spider bite?  Nope, just her shot from a few months ago.

So our girls will forever have these funny little scars on the top of their right arms. But don’t worry, as our South African pediatrician told us, “No harm. They’ll just tan a bit different there.” Umm, have you seen their complexions? There will be no tanning over those scars. And then he casually adds, "Oh- be sure not to pick at it, there's live TB in there."

Interestingly, the US is one of the only countries that doesn’t give the BCG. We rely instead on TB testing. Remember that under-the-skin test for a reaction before you work in food service or other TB-sensitive job? Apparently after you’ve been given the BCG vaccine, you’ll always test positive for TB. We’ll see what happens when the girls try to get their first waitressing jobs.

Vaccines are kind of a funny thing when raising babies in Congo. For a variety of reasons we’ve always imported our own vaccines. And when I say “import” I mean we physically carry them in a cooler on the plane. They stay in our fridge until vaccination time and then Jill (or current TASOK nurse) will come over and give them. It’s a funny system, but it works.

For example, here's what we did last night:

And no vaccine anxiety for us. Chances are the disease we’re immunizing against lives a few blocks down the street. So we always think, “Oh! There’s a vaccine against that? We’ll take two!”


  1. Oh man - such a bad nurse...no gloves.

    I did some research to see if I could back up my idea that it wasn't really necessary to wear gloves to give a vaccine. Turns out, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations do not require the wearing of gloves when administering vaccinations. Nice. I don't feel so bad now.

  2. Also - the vaccine issue has been interesting for us. Pre-"living in a third world country", we followed a delayed vaccine schedule for both kids. We truly appreciated the luxury of being able to fully vaccinate, but never give more than 2-3 immunizations at a time.

    However, before moving to the Congo, we worked with our really excellent family doctor in Charlottesville, Virginia to come up with a schedule to ensure both kids were completely and totally up to date.

    Everything in life is about weighing risks and benefits...

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  4. I recognized the "bite" on darling Ani's sweet, delectable, little arm as Lou was pointing it out in one of the pics. Has it bothered her at all? I'm betting Charlotte is more at risk for picking at it than Ani is.

  5. I work for an agency that requires the TB Skin Test (PPD) annually for all employees. When a staff was born in a country that administers the BCG, they are required to have a chest xray to confirm "false positive resutls".

  6. I got the BCG when I was a baby and then when I was 6, in Argentina (that's where I am from). The reaction from the second time was HUGE! I still have a pretty big scar and it itches from time to time. Now that I live in the US, people get freaked out when I test positive for TB antibodies. I had to get an x-ray to confirm that I didn't have TB for my Permanent Residency application.
    That's a genius idea, to breastfeed the baby while vaccines are administered. GENIUS!

  7. My son has the same abcess from this vaccine,but it is not healing for 13 months.What should I do?It is smaller now,but not healing and leaving the scar...

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  10. I had that , no heels or scars . The x-ray always recommended for people with BCG vaccines , TB test are normally positive , But no problem for finding job, Doctors know these things . no worries at all,
    They are always safe against TB,. that is a good news.

  11. Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can't wait to read lots of your posts. BCGSearch Harrison Barnes


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