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Report: Unvaccinated Oregon boy with tetanus spent nearly 2 months in hospital; medical bills totaled $800K

The 2017 case was the first pediatric tetanus case in Oregon in more than 30 years, according to the report.

PORTLAND, Ore. — As the debate over vaccine exemptions continues in the Oregon Legislature, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report detailing the first pediatric tetanus case in Oregon in more than 30 years.

The disease, which can be caused by an infection with bacteria found in soil, put a 6-year-old Oregon boy in the hospital for nearly two months and left his family with a medical bill of more than $800,000, the report says. The report, written by doctors at Oregon Health & Science University and an official from Oregon Health Authority, was part of the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.

In 2017, the boy, who had received no immunizations, got a cut on his forehead while playing outside on a farm, the report said. The wound was cleaned and sutured at home but six days later, the boy reportedly had episodes of crying, jaw clenching, involuntary muscle spasms and breathing difficulties.

Parents called for emergency medical help and the boy was flown to a pediatric medical center. He was given one dose of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTaP) after doctors suspected he had tetanus. The child was given ear plugs and cared for in a darkened room with minimal stimulation, the report said. Stimulation increased the intensity of the child’s spasms, according to the report.

The boy ended up spending 57 days at the hospital, 47 of which were spent in the intensive care unit, the report said. He then spent 17 days at a rehabilitation center. One month after rehabilitation treatment, the boy was able to resume normal activities such as running and bicycling, the report said.

Treatment costs totaled $811,929, which didn’t include air transportation, rehabilitation treatment and ambulatory follow-up costs, according to the report.

Despite the boy’s difficult path to recovery, his family declined a second dose of the DTaP vaccine, the report said.

Read the full report

Vaccinations have led to a 95 percent decline in the number of tetanus cases in the US and a 99 percent decrease in the number of tetanus-related deaths since the 1940s, according to the CDC. The authors also cited a report that said 16 tetanus-associated deaths were reported in the US from 2009 to 2015.

The DTaP vaccine is recommended for all eligible children in a series of five doses. The first three doses are recommended at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. The fourth dose is recommended at 15-18 months and the fifth dose at 4-6 years of age. Booster doses are recommended every 10 years throughout life.

A bill being considered in the Oregon House of Representatives would limit vaccine exemptions for children attending public schools. The proposed legislation comes after a measles outbreak in Clark County, Washington, where 70 people have been diagnosed with measles.