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Oregon Parents Refuse Further Vaccination After Their Child Nearly Dies From Tetanus

CARLY CASSELLA
8 MAR 2019

A six-year-old boy in Oregon nearly lost his life to a tetanus infection, and it's all because he was not vaccinated.

A new CDC report explains that the young child was playing outdoors on a farm in 2017 when he accidentally cut his forehead. The wound was cleaned and stitched up at home, but six days later, the boy's jaw began to clench and his muscles started spasming uncontrollably.

 

It was only when his breathing became more difficult later that day that his parents contacted emergency services, and he was air-transported to the nearest paediatric hospital.

The diagnosis was childhood tetanus, the first documented case in Oregon in over 30 years.

Tetanus is an uncommon but very serious neuromuscular disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. This bacteria produces spores that can be found just about anywhere, including soil, dust and faeces, and which can cause serious medical complications if they enter an open wound.

The only way to protect yourself is through five doses of a vaccination. In fact, since the 1940s and the advent of the tetanus vaccine and wound management techniques, the United States has experienced a 95 percent decline in the number of tetanus cases and a 99 percent decrease in tetanus-related deaths.

In this particular case, however, the boy had not received his tetanus vaccine, or any other recommended vaccinations for that matter. The result was eight weeks in inpatient care - 47 days of which were spent in intensive care - followed by several weeks of rehabilitation.

 

When the child first got to the hospital, he was unable to open his mouth, and spasms in his diaphragm and larynx meant that doctors had to put him on a ventilator so he could breathe properly.

To control his spasms, the child was set up in darkened room with ear plugs and minimal stimulation. At the same time, he was given the tetanus vaccine and antibodies to fight off the bacteria.

Nevertheless, the spasms causing his back and neck to arch worsened, and he developed hypertension, a speeding heart rate and a fever. It wasn't until a month after rehabilitation that the child was once again able to walk and run without assistance. 

All in all, the medical care cost more than $800,000, and that's not even including the air transport, ambulance costs or the inpatient care.

But the tragedy does not end there. Even after receiving extensive advice on the risks and benefits of the tetanus vaccination, his parents declined a second dose and any other recommended immunisations.

In the state of Oregon, parents are generally required to have their kindergartners vaccinated against diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox, Hepatitis A and B, and tetanus.

 

However, exemptions can be made for philosophical and religious reasons, and at 7.5 percent, Oregon currently has the highest percentage of these in the entire country. What's worse, that number is continuing to grow.

"While more nonmedical exemptions mean fewer children are being immunised, the vast majority of Oregon parents and guardians still choose to fully immunise their children," says Stacy de Assis Matthews, an immunisation school law coordinator with the Oregon Immunisation Program.

"Most parents and guardians know that immunisation is still the best way to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as whooping cough and measles."

The case was published by the CDC in its MMWR and Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.