Physicians and infectious diseases experts around the country are expressing shock at a case study describing treatment of an unvaccinated 6-year-old Oregon boy for an extreme tetanus infection, given that the disease has been all but eliminated by modern immunization practices.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the details of the 2017 case, describing how the boy was hospitalized for two months as doctors worked to treat the aggressive infection.
The boy was given an emergency tetanus vaccine during treatment, but his parents declined to give him a second shot, or any other common childhood immunizations, after he recovered.
Dr. William Schaffner, infectious diseases expert and the chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University, called this a “tragedy and a misunderstanding,” saying he was “flabbergasted,” at the parents’ decision not to immunize after such an incident.
Dr. Judith Guzman-Cotrill, the physician who treated the boy, said that the disease is so uncommon that this was the first case she had ever experienced.
The boy likely contracted the disease after cutting his forehead while playing, which the family then “stitched up the wound themselves.” Days after the boy exhibited the lockjaw and muscle spasms common to tetanus infections, eventual breathing trouble caused his family to call medical authorities.
According to the Associated Press, “cases of tetanus have dropped by 95 percent in the U.S. since widespread childhood vaccination and adult booster shots became routine nearly 80 years ago. Deaths have dropped 99 percent.”
-By Ian MacRonald