Unvaccinated 6-Year-Old In Oregon Contracts First Case Of Tetanus In 30 Years

by Cassandra Stone
Image via Getty/PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini

His hospital stay lasted six weeks and cost more than $800,000

The state of Oregon hadn’t seen a case of tetanus in more than 30 years, thanks to the effectiveness of the tetanus vaccine and pediatricians. Unfortunately, a new report released by the Center for Disease Control is revealing the details surrounding a 2017 case where a 6-year-old boy who was unvaccinated contracted tetanus and had to be hospitalized for six weeks.

While the boy was playing on a farm, he cut his head on something. His parents reportedly cleaned the wound and stitched his cut at home, but alarming symptoms presented themselves six days later. His jaw began clenching, and his neck and back were arched — a hallmark symptom of tetanus, which causes muscles to spasm involuntarily.

He was airlifted to a pediatric hospital, where doctors promptly diagnosed him with tetanus. This made it the first case of the life-threatening neuromuscular disease in Oregon in over three decades. Three. Decades.

According to the CDC, tetanus is an acute neuromuscular disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Bacterial spores found in soil can enter the body through skin disruption, with subsequent onset of clinical illness ranging from 3 to 21 days (usually within 8 days).

The little boy had a lengthy stay in the hospital due to the severe state his body was in from tetanus. He couldn’t breathe when he first arrived at the hospital, so doctors had to sedate and intubate him because the spasms of his diaphragm and larynx were inhibiting his breathing. Before doctors sedated him, he was completely alert and feeling every ounce of the pain he was in.

While he was in the hospital, he was given an anti-tetanus immunoglobulin for his head wound (which physicians properly cleaned and treated as well), as well as the DTaP vaccine — which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. He was also placed in a dark room with ear plugs to help reduce the intensity of his spasms.

Things didn’t get easier for him quickly, that’s for sure. During his hospital stay, which lasted 57 days, his body temperature fluctuated between 97 degrees and 104.9 degrees. He needed multiple, continuous intravenous medication infusions to manage his pain and control his blood pressure — keep in mind he was just six years old at the time. He had to endure prolonged ventilator support for more than a month.

He was unable to eat solid food and couldn’t even tolerate clear liquids until day 44 in the hospital. He finally walked approximately 20 feet — with assistance — on day 50. Finally, after his 57th day in the hospital, he was transferred to a rehabilitation center for continued care for more than two weeks.

In all, the boy’s medical charges in the hospital amounted to $811,929 — which did not include the cost of being airlifted to the hospital or of inpatient rehabilitation, according to the CDC.

“The patient was in the intensive care unit, in critical condition, for over six weeks,” says Judith Guzman-Cottrill, the author of the CDC report. “The complex and prolonged care led to the high treatment cost. In contrast, the cost of one DTaP dose is somewhere around $24-$30 a dose, and this illness could have been prevented with five doses of DTaP vaccine.”

Let that sink in. When we hear horror stories about children contracting diseases because of anti-vaccination propaganda and parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, we don’t often hear much, if anything, about tetanus. Look at the physical price this poor, innocent little boy had to endure because he wasn’t given a simple tetanus shot — it’s unfathomable any parent would choose this for their child.

Even more frustrating: according to the report, when doctors counseled the boy’s family about vaccines and urged them to get their son up-to-date on his vaccinations (as well as a follow-up dose of the DTaP vaccine) they said no.


For the record, the CDC recommends that children receive five doses of the DTaP vaccine: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years of age. Booster shots are recommended every 10 years through adulthood.

This tragic story should leave no doubt in any parent’s mind that vaccinations are safe and they work.