Tag: tetanus myths

An Unvaccinated Girl in Italy Has Tetanus

Remember the story of the unvaccinated boy in Oregon who recently had tetanus?

He spent nearly two months in the hospital, nearly all of it in the ICU, and his care cost just over $800,000. All for a disease that is easily vaccine-preventable.

An Unvaccinated Girl in Italy Has Tetanus

That boy in Oregon wasn’t the first intentionally unvaccinated kid to have tetanus recently and tragically, he won’t be the last.

An Unvaccinated Girl in Italy Has Tetanus
The girl fell and skinned her knee. Unvaccinated, she ended up in the ICU with tetanus.

The latest case is an unvaccinated girl in Verona, Italy.

An Unvaccinated Girl in Italy Has Tetanus

The girl, from Povegliano, is intubated and sedated and in critical condition.

Her family is being investigated to see why she wasn’t vaccinated.

Unbelievably, she joins a growing list of kids who have gotten tetanus for no good reason in the post-vaccination era.

  • an unvaccinated 4-year-old who developed tetanus after a toenail injury. He was intubated for over two weeks.
  • an unvaccinated 10-year-old in Sardinia, Italy who cut his forehead after crashing his bike
  • an unvaccinated 7-year-old in New Zealand who had a small cut his foot
  • an unvaccinated 7-year-old in Australia who cut her foot while playing in the garden

Wondering why it doesn’t happen more often?

Most kids are vaccinated and protected!

And most parents, even those who are scared to vaccinate their kids, understand that tetanus is basically everywhere and almost impossible to avoid.

More on Unvaccinated Kids with Tetanus

Can Vaccines Cause Rhabdomyolysis?

The urine is dark because of myoglobinuria secondary to muscle break down. Hemoglobinuria, from blood, is the other thing that makes urine dark.
The urine is dark because of myoglobinuria secondary to muscle break down. Hemoglobinuria, from blood, is the other thing that makes urine dark. Photo Kumar et al (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US).

You have probably never heard of rhabdomyolysis.

Children with rhabdomyolysis have severe muscle pain, muscle weakness, and dark urine.

It is classically caused by exercising too much (really overdoing it or exercising a lot more or a lot longer than you typically do) and damaging your muscles, leading to a breakdown of muscle cells and the release of creatine kinase, which in addition to muscle symptoms, can lead to kidney failure.

In addition to exercise, rhabdomyolysis can be caused by seizures, drugs, toxins, insect stings, snake bites, metabolic disorders, infections (viral myositis), and trauma.

“The most common causes of pediatric rhabdomyolysis were viral myositis (38%), trauma (26%), and connective tissue disease (5%).”

Mannix et al on Acute Pediatric Rhabdomyolysis: Causes and Rates of Renal Failure

Keep in mind that rhabdomyolysis is rare. You won’t confuse the aches and pains that most kids get, and which often get blamed on growing pains, with rhabdomyolysis. Although younger kids don’t always have dark urine when they have rhabdo, the pain and weakness is severe. Seek immediate medical attention if you think that your child might have rhabdomyolysis.

Can Vaccines Cause Rhabdomyolysis?

It is well known that rhabdomyolysis can be caused by infections.

“Rhabdomyolysis has been reported to be associated with a variety of viral infections, including influenza, [15,16] Coxsackie virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), echovirus and cytomegalovirus [17]. In our series, the definite viral infection was identified in 5 patients (influenza type B in 4, Coxsackie A10 in 1)”

Chen et al on Clinical spectrum of rhabdomyolysis presented to pediatric emergency department

So if a natural influenza virus infection can cause rhabdomyolysis, does that mean that the flu vaccine can too? What about other vaccines?

Not necessarily, but there are a few case reports that associate vaccines with rhabdomyolysis.

“Influenza A infection has been described as a major viral cause of infection-induced rhabdomyolysis, but to date, only one reported case was described as having been induced by influenza vaccine.”

Callado et al on Rhabdomyolysis secondary to influenza A H1N1 vaccine resulting in acute kidney injury.

In several of the reports, patients already had chronic medical problems for which they were being treated. Still, no signal was found to suggest that the flu vaccine is a problem for these patients.

It is important to note that reports of post-vaccination rhabdomyolysis in healthy people are even rarer.

So while it is could be possible that vaccines are rarely associated with rhabdomyolysis, we know that many infections, including many vaccine-preventable diseases, are a more common cause.

Don’t skip or delay a vaccine because you might have heard that vaccines cause rhabdomyolysis.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary.

More on Vaccines and Rhabdomyolysis

An Unvaccinated Child in Oregon Recently Had Tetanus

I recently wrote about how there was a case of diphtheria in Oklahoma last year.

It was a good reminder that we aren’t just seeing measles outbreaks these days.

Need another reminder?

An Unvaccinated Child in Oregon Recently Had Tetanus

An unvaccinated 6-year-old in Oregon developed tetanus.

Can an unvaccinated child really get tetanus after a toe nail injury?
In a similar case, an unvaccinated 4-year-old got severe tetanus after a minor toe nail injury. (CC BY 3.0)

“In 2017, a boy aged 6 years who had received no immunizations sustained a forehead laceration while playing outdoors on a farm; the wound was cleaned and sutured at home. Six days later, he had episodes of crying, jaw clenching, and involuntary upper extremity muscle spasms, followed by arching of the neck and back (opisthotonus) and generalized spasticity. Later that day, at the onset of breathing difficulty, the parents contacted emergency medical services, who air-transported him directly to a tertiary pediatric medical center. The boy subsequently received a diagnosis of tetanus and required approximately 8 weeks of inpatient care, followed by rehabilitation care, before he was able to resume normal activities.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

Many folks will recognize the “jaw clenching” from the alternative name for tetanus – lockjaw.

“Upon hospital arrival, the child had jaw muscle spasms (trismus). He was alert and requested water but was unable to open his mouth; respiratory distress caused by diaphragmatic and laryngeal spasm necessitated sedation, endotracheal intubation, and mechanical ventilation. Tetanus immune globulin (3,000 units) and diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) were administered for presumed tetanus. He was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit and cared for in a darkened room with ear plugs and minimal stimulation (stimulation increased the intensity of his spasms). Intravenous metronidazole was initiated, and the scalp laceration was irrigated and debrided.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

Wait, wasn’t it too late to vaccinate him at this point?

Of course not.

Remember, tetanus vaccine doesn’t actually kill the tetanus bacteria. Or even prevent a tetanus infection, believe it or not. The tetanus shot is a toxoid vaccine directed against the toxin that the tetanus bacteria makes.

Once tetanus spores germinate, the bacteria have to grow and then produce exotoxins. The exotoxins then have to travel to different sites in your nervous system, where they act as neurotoxins.

At this point, although he was treated with antibiotics and tetanus immune globulin, there is still a chance that spores will germinate and becteria will eventually grow and produce more exotoxin. Getting the vaccine helps ensure that you will make some of your own antibody to fight them.

“His opisthotonus worsened, and he developed autonomic instability (hypertension, tachycardia, and body temperatures of 97.0°F–104.9°F [36.1°C–40.5°C]). He was treated with multiple continuous intravenous medication infusions to control his pain and blood pressure, and with neuromuscular blockade to manage his muscle spasms. A tracheostomy was placed on hospital day 5 for prolonged ventilator support. Starting on hospital day 35, the patient tolerated a 5-day wean from neuromuscular blockade. On day 44, his ventilator support was discontinued, and he tolerated sips of clear liquids. On day 47, he was transferred to the intermediate care unit. Three days later, he walked 20 feet with assistance. On day 54, his tracheostomy was removed, and 3 days later, he was transferred to a rehabilitation center for 17 days.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

And since you don’t develop natural immunity to tetanus, getting vaccinated helps protect you from future exposures.

After an episode like this, you wouldn’t want to risk your child getting this sick again, would you?

“The boy required 57 days of inpatient acute care, including 47 days in the intensive care unit. The inpatient charges totaled $811,929 (excluding air transportation, inpatient rehabilitation, and ambulatory follow-up costs). One month after inpatient rehabilitation, he returned to all normal activities, including running and bicycling. Despite extensive review of the risks and benefits of tetanus vaccination by physicians, the family declined the second dose of DTaP and any other recommended immunizations.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

Well, most of us wouldn’t…

Hopefully other parents learn a lesson though.

Remember, you can wait too long to vaccinate your kids. You can skip or delay a vaccine long enough that they end up getting measles, tetanus, diphtheria, or meningococcemia, etc., before you get caught up.

More on Tetanus In An Unvaccinated Child in Oregon

Can You Treat Tetanus Without a Tetanus Shot?

Why would anyone want to try and treat tetanus without a tetanus shot?

That’s a good question…

Misinformation about tetanus from the PIC.

Why would a doctor tell others that tetanus could be treated without a tetanus shot?

That might be a question for a state medical board…

Can You Treat Tetanus Without a Tetanus Shot?

As most people will notice, even looking at the ironically named Physicians for Informed Consent’s own post, you don’t treat tetanus without a tetanus shot.

“Tetanus is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization, immediate treatment with human tetanus immune globulin (TIG), agents to control muscle spasm, aggressive wound care, antibiotics, and a tetanus toxoid booster. If tetanus immune globulin is unavailable, Immune Globulin Intravenous (IGIV) can be used.”

CDC on Tetanus for Clinicians

Even in the study that they used as a reference clearly used both tetanus immune globulin and a tetanus shot.

What might be confusing to some folks, is that tetanus toxoid, is synonymous (has the same meaning) as:

  • tetanus vaccine
  • tetanus shot
  • Td (tetanus toxoid + diphtheria toxoid)

So like most people with tetanus, this patient received both tetanus immune globulin and a tetanus vaccine, a fact I tried to point out so that visitors to Physicians for Informed Consent could get true informed consent about their vaccine choices.

The comment that got me banned from posting on Phyicians for Informed Consent.
As often happens on anti-vaccine sites, my comment was quickly deleted and I was banned from posting further messages.

And fortunately, the patient, who’s previous immunization history was unknown, got better!

Treating Tetanus With a Tetanus Shot

Why did he have tetanus?

The case they are talking about occurred in Japan, and again, it isn’t known if the patient had ever received a tetanus vaccine.

“In Japan, tetanus toxoid was introduced in 1968, so elderly adults who were born before 1968 have high risk of tetanus.”

Tomoda et al. on Tetanus without apparent history of trauma

He was born in 1950 and although he had no history of recent trauma, “he grew vegetables in a field as his hobby.”

As most people know, gardening is a risk factor for getting tetanus.

And with such a long incubation period, it is very likely that he had a minor wound or injury while gardening, was exposed to tetanus spores, and later developed tetanus symptoms.

Over 100 years ago, we did treat tetanus with just tetanus immunoglobulin, but that was before the tetanus vaccine was developed.
Over 100 years ago, we did treat tetanus with just tetanus immunoglobulin, but that was before the tetanus vaccine was developed.

The long incubation period is also the reason that giving a tetanus vaccine works to prevent you from getting tetanus even after you have been exposed. Tetanus spores have to germinate, the bacteria have to grow and then produce exotoxins. And then the exotoxins have to travel to different sites in your nervous system, where they act as neurotoxins.

Hopefully, before they do, the dose of tetanus vaccine you got when you pricked your finger on a thorn, stepped on a nail, or cut your leg, etc., will have already induced you to start making antibodies against the exotoxins – antitoxin. Just in case they don’t, in a high risk case, you also would have gotten a dose of tetanus immune globulin for an immediate dose of antitoxin – antibodies against the exotoxins.

The same thing happens if you have already developed tetanus symptoms. A dose of tetanus immune globulin helps to neutralize neurotoxins that haven’t already started doing damage, and you get supportive care until you recover. Plus antibiotics to kill the bacteria so they won’t make more exotoxins and a tetanus shot.

Why not just give tetanus immune globulin, as the post from Physicians for Informed Consent implied you can do?

It is mostly because a tetanus infection doesn’t stimulate any natural immunity and the immunity you get from tetanus immune globulin is temporary, so won’t prevent a relapsing or recurrent case.

Before the use of tetanus vaccines became standard, it was well known that tetanus relapses were possible.
Before the use of tetanus vaccines became standard, it was well known that tetanus relapses were possible.

And because no one would substitute a treatment that is known to work well, a tetanus vaccine with tetanus immune globulin, and switch it out for one that might be riskier and have no extra benefits.

Using immune globulin alone was once the recommended treatment. That was before the tetanus vaccine was developed though. Back then, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, folks with suspected tetanus got treated with anti-tetanic serum that was made in horses. The main problem with this tetanus antitoxin was that it could sometimes trigger serum sickness.

Fortunately, a tetanus vaccine was soon developed and it’s use with tetanus immune globulin helped make deaths from tetanus very rare.

Of course, tetanus is still around. Although it is a vaccine-preventable disease, it will never be eradicated, like smallpox.

“This case had no apparent portal of entry; there was no history of trauma, and no site was found on physical examination. However, this is not uncommon; no obvious entry site was reported in approximately 26% of cases in Japan.”

Tomoda et al. on Tetanus without apparent history of trauma

And not specific to Japan, that you can get tetanus without a history of trauma should be what really concerns folks in this article that the Physicians for Informed Consent has decided to spotlight.

It is a great reminder that vaccines are necessary.

More on Treating Tetanus Without a Tetanus Shot