"It's an incredibly rare case," Giovani Zanda, head of the pediatric ward at San Martino Di Oristano Hospital in western Sardinia, told Corriere della Sera. It is the first registered case of tetanus in a child in Italy for 30 years, according to a spokesperson for the country's National Health Institute.
The 10-year-old boy was admitted to hospital with a cut to his forehead caused by a bicycle injury a few weeks ago. Doctors back then suggested a tetanus vaccination as a precaution but the parents apparently refused it.
When the child returned to hospital weeks later, the tetanus had already incubated and reached an acute stage, according to a report in ANSA. Doctors were alerted to the tetanus symptoms after the patient experienced facial paralysis. The child has been treated and is said to be in a stable condition.
The case however has raised alarm bells and adds weight to the government's much-discussed recent law that makes vaccinations a mandatory part of school inscription. The law makes 12 vaccinations obligatory for all children. These include, among others, preventive vaccinations for measles, hepatitis b and, tetanus. Several northern regions have legally challenged the decree.
According to the new law, families who don't vaccinate their children aged between 6 and 16 will be fined and directed to make an appointment with their closest health centre.
Families who don't adhere to the law could be fined up to 7,500 or even have be stripped of custody, according to Wired. The law comes into effect from the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year and there is a one-year transition period envisioned.
According to the Ministry of Health's own guidelines, the main changes to the law involve an increase in the number of compulsory vaccinations from 4 to 12. Vaccinations also becomes a mandatory prerequisite for registration in kindergartens for children aged up to 6.
"The tetanus case represents an exception that certainly could have been avoided if the young patient had been vaccinated," said Zanda, the doctor who treated the child with tetanus, as reported in Corriere della Sera.