A 6-year-old boy was playing on a farm when he cut his forehead, something that was simple enough to tend to at home.
But 6 days later, his parents realized something was seriously wrong: He was clenching his jaw, having trouble breathing and experiencing involuntary muscle spasms.
The boy, who had not received vaccinations, was taken to hospital and was found to have tetanus, the state’s first documented pediatric case of the disease in more than 30 years, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The case quickly became one of the most-viewed articles and generated much discussion online.
The article described a harrowing recovery and offered a warning of the dangers associated with the preventable disease: The boy spent 57 days in the hospital and with medical bills of more than $800,000.
“I honestly never thought I would see this disease in the United States,” said Dr. Judith A. Guzman-Cottrill, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, who helped care for the boy and was the lead author of the article.
She said she never wanted to see it again. “It was difficult — for many of us — to see him suffer,” she said.
The child’s parents are anti-vaccine supporters and hence didn’t had their child vaccinated for this basic disease, which could have been prevented in less than a dollar cost.
Parents who do not vaccinate their children have expressed worries about side effects, concerns over cost, moral or religious objections, and fears that vaccines lead to autism — an idea that has been widely debunked.
Tetanus, a life-threatening disease that is transmitted through open wounds and causes painful muscle spasms, declined drastically after the introduction of a vaccine in the 1940s.
Today, the disease occurs “almost exclusively” in people who have not been vaccinated.
When the boy arrived at the hospital, he was alert and asked for water, but could not open his mouth. Doctors gave him medicine, including an initial vaccine for tetanus, known as DTaP, according to the article. But his condition was perilous. He spent more than a month on a ventilator, the article said.
He also stayed in a darkened room for weeks, where he wore earplugs and was exposed to little stimulation to avoid making his spasms worse, Dr. Guzman-Cottrill said. His pain was so bad, she said, that doctors took care not to trigger him even with their voices. “We had to whisper,” she said.
After his hospitalization, he was moved to a rehabilitation center, where he stayed for 17 days. Finally, a month after his inpatient rehabilitation, he was well enough to return to normal activities, including running and biking.
The pain that he experienced was difficult for Dr. Guzman-Cottrill to forget. She said doctors worked with the C.D.C. to publish the case report to raise awareness, with the hope that a similar case will not happen again.
Unfortunately, the experience did not change the position of the boy’s parents.
But despite an “extensive review” of the risks, and the benefits of vaccination, the article said, the family declined the second vaccination — or any other recommended immunization.
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