Children risk serious illness and could even die if they are not vaccinated for tetanus, the HSE has warned.
The stark warning follows a report by doctors at the National University of Ireland in Galway, which reported the first case of a child contracting tetanus since it became a notifiable disease here in 1981.
The 11-year-old Irish boy had not been vaccinated for tetanus, and contracted it after getting a puncture wound to his right foot while playing barefoot outdoors.
The report, by medics in the new edition of the Irish Medical Journal, stated that mortality rates for those who contract tetanus approach 50%.
There have been only 12 cases of tetanus here since 1981 — the last reported case before this was in 2008.
Of the 12 cases, two people have died. The last reported tetanus case in Britain was almost 10 years ago, in 2004.
The paediatricians at Galway’s department of paediatrics stated that the 11-year-old spent 17 days in hospital including nine in its intensive care unit.
The medics report that despite advice and education since the incident, the boy’s siblings also remain unvaccinated.
The boy presented to the emergency department 12 days after he sustained his injury, the report states.
Four days prior to going to the & emergency department, the boy experienced pain in his left jaw and teeth and over the following two days experienced chest tightness and became unable to open his mouth fully — tolerating only pureed food and liquids.
On presenting, medics noted “a marked spasm of the patient’s jaw muscles with limited opening” and his “gait scissoring in nature”.
The medics said a cleansing of the boy’s wound revealed a 1in thorn which was removed from the boy’s foot.
The report stated that the boy endured severe tongue swelling, ulceration, and repeated painful muscle spasms for a seven-day period.
The tetanus vaccination was administered to the boy prior to his discharge from hospital.
The report states that tetanus vaccine provides protection in 90% to 95% of children who are fully vaccinated.
“This case highlights the importance of awareness of tetanus especially in non-immunised individuals,” the doctors declared.
A HSE spokesman said yesterday that children not vaccinated for tetanus “risk severe disease and may die as a result of the disease”.
“Tetanus is an acute, often fatal disease caused by a toxin produced by a spore forming bacterium, clostridium tetani.
“The spores can remain viable for years and are common in soil and animal and human faeces.”
He said that infection can occur often through a puncture wound or through trivial, unnoticed wounds and through injecting drug use.
A small group of parents continue to choose not to vaccinate their children for the disease, with the spokesman stating that 96% of children here have received three doses of the tetanus vaccine at two years of age.
- Tetanus vaccine in children: The tetanus vaccine is given to children as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine at 2, 4, and 6 months of age.
Booster vaccine doses are given at 4-5 years of age.
- Tetanus vaccination in older children and adults: Adults or children older than 10 years of age who have not been immunised, or only partially immunised, should receive tetanus vaccination according to the recommended schedule using a tetanus containing vaccine.
- Tetanus vaccination after an injury: Individuals who have wound injuries are medically assessed to determine what treatment is needed to prevent tetanus. The treatment recommended by the doctor will depend on history of tetanus vaccination, type of wound and whether it is considered to be a “tetanus prone wound” (such as wounds contaminated with dirt, faeces, soil, or saliva).
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