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Brain Communications, 2021

DOI: 10.1093/braincomms/fcab013



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Tetanus in a rural low-income intensive care unit setting

Journal article published in 2021 by Sam Olum, Jacob Eyul, Daniel Ocen Lukwiya, Neil Scolding
Distributing this paper is prohibited by the publisher
Distributing this paper is prohibited by the publisher

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Abstract Tetanus is a potentially severe but preventable infection. In resource-rich settings, vaccination programmes have reduced tetanus to a rare disease, though still carrying an overall mortality of some 13%. However, in low income settings, tetanus remains common, and is a significant cause of mortality—though major World Health Organisation programmes are successfully targeting neonatal disease. Data concerning the frequency and outcomes of non-neonatal tetanus in low income settings are very sparse. We aimed to utilize a unique intensive care unit-based dataset to elicit clinical and demographic features and mortality in a large cohort of tetanus patients admitted over an eleven year period to a single hospital centre in a rural low-income setting in northern Uganda. A total of 268 patients with tetanus were admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at St Mary’s Hospital, Lacor between 2005 and 2015; the records of 190 were retrievable and had sufficient information to be assessed. 29 were neonates (median age 7 days, IQR 0), 52 children (1-16yrs; median age 11 years, IQR 4.5) and 109 were adults (median age 42 years, IQR 23). There was no seasonal pattern in the frequency of admissions. Of the 190 patients, 69 had endotracheal intubation with intermitent positive pressure ventilation, and 57 patients had central line placement. The overall mortality was 51.5% – 72.4% in neonatal disease, 25% in children and 57.8% in adults. The requirements for neither central line insertion, nor endotracheal intubation, nor intermittent positive pressure ventilation were independently linked to mortality rates. By contrast with neonatal and childhood disease, there was a marked male preponderance in adult tetanus—94 males and 15 females (gender difference p < 0.001) – and although year-on-year breakdown suggested no obvious upward or downward trend over the span of our study in total numbers of tetanus admissions, a trend towards an increasing incidence of adult tetanus was apparent. These findings confirm that adult tetanus remains a major problem in rural low income settings, particularly in males, and suggests that more resources should be devoted to vaccination programmes targeting men.