FRIDAY, March 8, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Amid outbreaks of preventable childhood illnesses, one unvaccinated Oregon boy’s nightmarish encounter with tetanus should serve as a cautionary tale for “anti-vaxxer” parents, doctors say.
A team led by Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill, a pediatrician at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, related the harrowing story of a preventable illness in a 6-year-old.
It began in 2017, when the boy cut his forehead while playing outside. According to the report, “the wound was cleaned and sutured at home.”
Unfortunately, the boy’s parents had never gotten him the routine combo DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine. Potentially deadly tetanus developed six days later.
Tetanus is caused by infection with the Clostridium tetani bacterium. “Bacterial spores found in soil can enter the body through skin disruption,” the Oregon doctors noted, with onset of illness typically occurring within about eight days.
The young boy went through a severe, life-threatening illness.
“He was really sick and it was really difficult to watch,” Guzman-Cottrill told Stat News. “He was suffering.”
First came the painful, telltale signs of tetanus known as “lockjaw.”
Still at home, “he had episodes of crying, jaw clenching, and involuntary upper extremity muscle spasms, followed by arching of the neck and back,” his doctors reported.
“Later that day, at the onset of breathing difficulty, the parents contacted emergency medical services,” and he was transported by air to OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
Upon admission, the boy was still conscious and asked for water, but the “lockjaw” of tetanus rendered him unable to open his mouth. He was still undergoing spasms, so he was sedated, placed on a ventilator to help him breathe, and a tube was placed in his trachea.
Because any stimulation appeared to trigger more spasms, the boy received earplugs and was placed in a darkened room in the ICU, Guzman-Cottrill’s team said.
Symptoms worsened, however, and he developed a form of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and fever up to nearly 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Doctors gave him the first of the recommended two-dose DTaP vaccine, and treated the boy with “neuromuscular blockade” therapy to help ease spasms.