Tag: tetanus

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

The Benefits and Risks of Delaying Vaccines

Believe it or not, some pediatricians think it is a good idea to delay vaccines.

“Wait until a child is clearly developmentally “solid” before vaccinating because we just don’t know which children will react badly to immunizations.”

Dr. Jay Gordon

In fact, Dr. Bob wrote a whole book pushing his own immunization schedule!

Not surprisingly, there are no benefits to skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines, but there are plenty of risks.

What Are the Risks of Delaying Vaccines?

Of course, the biggest risk of delaying your child’s vaccines is that they will get a disease that they could have been vaccinated and protected against.

“In 1989, the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine was relatively new and not yet routine. I was aware of the vaccine’s availability, but, busy mom that I was, I had not yet made the trip to the health department to get the immunization for my two-year-old daughter, Sarah. I will always regret that bit of procrastination and the anguish that it caused.”

Peggy Archer

Although we are much more used to hearing vaccine injury scare stories, if you are thinking of delaying your child’s vaccines, there are also many personal stories of parents who regret not vaccinating their children that you should review.

You can wait too long to get a tetanus shot...
You can wait too long to get a tetanus shot… Photo by Petrus Rudolf de Jong (CC BY 3.0)

It is true that the risk may be very small for a disease like polio, which is close to being eradicated worldwide, but it is not zero.

Consider that the last case of polio occurred in 2005, when an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling to Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program.

So you might not get wild polio unless you visit specific regions of Afghanistan or Pakistan, but you might want to be concerned about vaccine-associated polio if you go to a country that is still giving the oral polio vaccine.

And the risk is certainly much higher than zero for most other vaccine-preventable diseases, as we see from the regular outbreaks of measles, mumps, and pertussis, etc.

Some studies even suggest that delaying your child’s vaccines puts them at more risk for side effects once you do start to get caught up!

“…in the second year of life, delay of the first MMR vaccine until 16 months of age or older resulted in an IRR for seizures in the 7 to 10 days after vaccination that was 3 times greater than if administration of MMR vaccine occurred on time.”

Hambridge et al on Timely Versus Delayed Early Childhood Vaccination and Seizures

Why would that be?

It’s probably because that’s when kids are most at risk for febrile seizures.

What Are the Benefits of Delaying Vaccines?

Again, there are no real benefits of delaying vaccines, except that your child gets out of one or more shots. Of course, that means your unvaccinated child is left unprotected.

And it is going to mean more shots later, once you do decide to get caught up.

Will it mean a lower risk of autism, ADHD, eczema, peanut allergies, or anything else?

Nope.

“The prevalence of allergic diseases and non-specific infections in children and adolescents was not found to depend on vaccination status.”

Schmitz et al on Vaccination Status and Health in Children and Adolescents Findings of the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS)

Unvaccinated kids are not healthier than those who are vaccinated. They are just at higher risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease.

Why do some folks think that there are benefits to delaying vaccines? Because they have been scared into thinking that vaccines are harmful and that they don’t even work.

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

Obviously, that put us all at risk. If too many people skip or delay their child’s vaccines, we will see more outbreaks.

Get educated. Vaccines work. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are necessary.

What to Know About the Risks of Delaying Vaccines

Delaying your child’s vaccines offers no benefits and lots of increased risks, especially an increased risk of getting the diseases that the vaccines protect us against.

More on the Risks of Delaying Vaccines

What Are Hypotonic-Hyporesponsive Episodes?

Just about any side effect after a vaccine can be scary for parents.

What if your child suddenly became limp, wasn’t responsive, and was pale?

That would be scary for any parent.

What Are Hypotonic-Hyporesponsive Episodes?

But that’s just what can happen when a child has a hypotonic–hyporesponsive episode (HHE).

“A hypotonic-hyporesponsive episode (HHE) is the sudden onset of hypotonia, hyporesponsiveness, and pallor or cyanosis that occurs within 48 hours after childhood immunizations.”

DuVernoy et al on Hypotonic-hyporesponsive episodes reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), 1996-1998

These types of episodes were once thought to happen once for every 1,750 DTP vaccines given.

HHE is much more rare since we switched to a new pertussis vaccine.
HHE is much rarer since we switched to a new pertussis vaccine.

Fortunately, although they certainly do sound scary, the episodes stop on their own and  don’t cause any permanent harm.

Hypotonic-hyporesponsive episodes were even removed as table injuries after DTP back in 1995. It is not that HHE can’t occur after DTP, DTaP, or other vaccines, but rather that HHE doesn’t then cause any permanent neurological damage to the child.

And it is rare for kids to have a second episode, so they can continue to get vaccinated. HHE is not a good reason to skip or delay all of your child’s vaccines. While not a contraindication to getting vaccinated, having an episode of HHE “within 48 hours after receiving a previous dose of DTP/DTaP,” is listed as a precaution to getting another dose of DTaP or Tdap though.

“In general, vaccinations should be deferred when a precaution is present. However, a vaccination might be indicated in the presence of a precaution if the benefit of protection from the vaccine outweighs the risk for an adverse reaction.”

CDC on Vaccine Contraindications and Precautions

Also, HHE has become even more rare since we switched to using DTaP, instead of the older DTP vaccine. So being worried about HHE is definitely not a good reason to skip or delay any vaccines.

What to Know About Hypotonic-Hyporesponsive Episodes

Hypotonic-hyporesponsive episodes were more common after the older DTP vaccines, but still didn’t cause any long term problems and aren’t a good reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines.

More About Hypotonic-Hyporesponsive Episodes