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Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1997 Oct;16(10):955-9.

Neonatal tetanus in the United States: a sentinel event in the foreign-born.

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Epidemic Intelligence Service, Epidemiology Program Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA.



Neonatal tetanus occurred in a 7-day-old infant born to Mexican immigrant parents in Tennessee in February, 1995. This was the first patient with neonatal tetanus reported in the United States since 1989.


We interviewed the infant's mother and physicians and reviewed the medical record. We conducted a telephone survey of 103 (17%) of the 609 licensed obstetrician/gynecologists practicing in Tennessee to assess vaccination history-taking practices during prenatal care.


The mother was a 30-year-old gravida 4 para 3 woman who grew up in rural Mexico. After moving to the United States in 1987, she had delivered two children before this delivery. The hospital-based delivery and nursery stay in February, 1995, were uncomplicated. On the sixth day of life the infant became irritable and developed muscle stiffness. The next day he was examined by a pediatrician who diagnosed neonatal tetanus. The infant recovered fully after a 2-month hospitalization. The survey of obstetrical practices revealed that 61 (59%) of 103 respondents asked about the patient's vaccination status during prenatal care. However, of all respondents, only 14 (14%) confirmed that they specifically asked about prior tetanus vaccinations. Tetanus toxoid was available in 47% of offices on the day of the survey.


Neonatal tetanus can still occur in the United States. This infant's immigrant mother had multiple missed opportunities to be vaccinated against tetanus during her three pregnancies in this country. Health care providers should ask patients about their vaccination status, particularly those patients who are foreign-born or who grew up outside the United States.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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