It Took Two Months and Nearly a Million Dollars to Save an Unvaccinated 6-Year-Old From Tetanus
A new case report from the Centers for Disease Control released Thursday starkly highlights the costs of not vaccinating children. It details an unvaccinated 6-year-old boy’s encounter with tetanus—and the hugely expensive, two-month-long effort it took to save his life.
Tetanus is caused by the namesake bacteria Clostridium tetani. More accurately, it’s what happens when the soil-loving C. tetani gets into your body—usually through an open cut—and spews out an extremely potent toxin. This toxin can quickly paralyze and send your muscles into constant spasms, beginning with the jaw (if you know anything about tetanus, it’s probably that it causes lockjaw). These spasms can then spread to the chest, back, and gut, leading to painful fractures, problems breathing, and even the complete loss of bowel control. It’s a brutal disease, one that can take months to fully recover from. Even with treatment, 10 percent of victims ultimately die.
Thankfully, we’ve had a working vaccine for tetanus since the 1920s, and vaccination has virtually eliminated the disease in countries with decent healthcare. Most every person in the U.S. is fully vaccinated for tetanus by the time they enter school, with the first of five shots happening at the age of 2 months (booster shots every 10 years afterward are recommended). Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the unnamed child in this report, since his family had chosen to not vaccinate him for any condition.
According to the authors, the 6-year-old boy from Oregon had gotten a forehead scrape while playing outside on a farm sometime in 2017. The wound was cleaned and sutured at home, but six days later the boy began experiencing lockjaw and muscle spasms. He then started arching his back and neck involuntarily and eventually could barely breathe, prompting his family to call for help.
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