Unvaccinated Oregon boy almost dies of tetanus

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — An unvaccinated six-year-old Oregon boy was hospitalised for two months for tetanus and almost died of the bacterial illness after getting a deep cut while playing on a farm, according to a case study published on Friday by the United States (US) Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.

The 2017 case is the first case of podiatric tetanus in Oregon in over 30 years and alarmed infectious disease experts who said tetanus is almost unheard of in the US since widespread immunisation began in the 1940s.

The child received an emergency dose of the tetanus vaccine in the hospital, but his parents declined to give him a second dose — or any other childhood shots — after he recovered, the paper said.

“When I read that, my jaw dropped. I could not believe it. That’s a tragedy and a misunderstanding, and I’m just flabbergasted,” said Dr William Schaffner, an expert in infectious diseases and chair at the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

“This is an awful disease, but … we have had a mechanism to completely prevent it, and the reason that we have virtually no cases anymore in the United States is because we vaccinate, literally, everyone.”

Paediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr Judith Guzman-Cottrill discuss the case of a an unvaccinated Oregon boy who almost died of tetanus, at a news conference. – AP

Doctors in Portland, Oregon, who treated the child declined to provide any further information about the family at a news conference on Friday, citing medical privacy laws.

It was the first time that Dr Judith Guzman-Cottrill, the paediatric infectious disease expert who treated the child, had ever seen tetanus because of widespread vaccination against it in the US.

When the boy arrived at the emergency department, his muscle spasms were so severe he could not talk, could not open his mouth and was struggling to breathe, she said.

“We had a hard time taking care of this child — watching him suffer — and it is a preventable disease,” Guzman-Cottrill said.

News about the tetanus case comes as lawmakers in Oregon and Washington are considering bills that would end non-medical exemptions for routine childhood vaccines as the Pacific Northwest weathers its third month of a measles outbreak. Seventy people in southwest Washington, most of them unvaccinated children, have been diagnosed with the highly contagious viral illness since January 1, as well as a handful of people in Portland, Oregon.