CDC: Unvaccinated boy diagnosed with tetanus, hospitalized almost 2 months

Grant Boone
March 12, 2019

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An unvaccinated 6-year-old boy in OR spent 57 days in a hospital, including 47 days in the intensive care unit, and racked up nearly $1 million in medical costs after being diagnosed with tetanus, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control.

The child was cut while playing outside on a farm in 2017 and his wound was treated at home, according to the report, which was written for the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

It was all going well until the sixth day when the boy started experiencing muscle spasms along with the clenching of the jaw. The boy struggled with his breathing later that day, prompting his parents to call emergency medical help.

The boy was airlifted to a pediatric medical center.

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.

The source of distressing symptoms: tetanus, a neuromuscular disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani.

After the boy was diagnosed, treatment began. His difficulty breathing continued and doctors had to sedate him and insert an assistive breathing tube. Following the incident, the laceration was "cleaned and sutured at home". "The patient was in the intensive care unit, in critical condition, for over six weeks", Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill said.

He was also placed in a dark room with ear plugs, which helped reduce the intensity of his spasms. His fever spiked to nearly 105 degrees (40.5 Celsius), and he developed high blood pressure and a racing heartbeat.

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At that point, the doctors were able to wean him off the drugs for muscle spasms over five days. On day 54, his tracheostomy was removed, and 3 days later, he was transferred to a rehabilitation center for 17 days.

Luckily, the boy made a full recovery.

A month after rehab, the boy returned to normal activities like running around and bicycling.

And the costs totaled $US811,929, excluding the boy's air ambulance transport, inpatient rehabilitation, and follow-ups. It added that his parents did not allow doctors to give him a full course of vaccines to protect him against tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, polio, and a range of other diseases even after the doctors told them of the benefits.

Forty-four days after he was hospitalized, the boy was able to sip clear liquids. But despite all they'd been through, his parents declined that shot, along with all other recommended vaccinations. Tetanus spores are everywhere in the environment, including dust and spores entering the body through broken skin - even if wounds are superficial, scrapes and cuts can be enough for transmission.

This is the first case of tetanus in the country in more than 30 years. Today, only about 30 cases are reported every year. A great majority of young children and babies are sufficiently vaccinated.

OR lawmakers are now debating a bill that would remove all but exemptions issued for medical reasons and require children be fully vaccinated in order to attend school.

Despite the nightmarish ordeal, his parents still refused to have him vaccinated, according to health officials in OR who helped treat the boy.

A kid receiving vaccine. More serious side effects, like allergic reactions or seizures, are much less common.

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