Tetanus Killed Woman After Fall in Garden

By the Yorkshire Post

This article was published in the Yorkshire Post, an English newspaper, on February 26, 2003, and was reprinted with the kind permission of the Yorkshire Post. ©️Yorkshire Post.

A RARE disease which has been largely wiped out in the U.K. thanks to immunisation killed a 61-year-old woman after it got into her system through a face wound.

Sheila Creighton fell on a bush in her garden, cutting her face. She was taken to hospital where the wound was cleaned up and stitched. But she was forced to seek further help when her face began to ache and she had difficulty moving her jaw.

Several medical experts who saw Mrs Creighton, most of whom had never seen a case of tetanus before, failed to diagnose the disorder which attacks the nervous system, leads to spasms, and can kill.

It was only after she collapsed several days after the fall that tetanus was diagnosed. She was treated in the intensive care unit at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, but efforts to save her failed and she died in April last year, four weeks after the fall.

An inquest in Huddersfield was told yesterday that the disease was extremely rare in the UK. Figures for 1999 showed that there were only three reported cases and only one resulted in death.

Deborah Tooley, specialist registrar in anesthetics and intensive care at Pinderfields, who treated Mrs. Creighton in the later stages of the illness, said she could not speak but by asking her patient questions had discovered Mrs. Creighton had had a tetanus jab in 1995.

Prior to that, she indicated she hadn’t been immunised for about 20 years. But the inquest heard conflicting evidence that her GP notes showed she had been immunised in 1991. The hearing was told that if Mrs. Creighton, of Milton Road, Liversedge, near Dewsbury, hadn’t been immunised for 20 years before 1995 she wouldn’t have been protected. Pathologist Patricia Gudgeon concluded that Mrs Creighton’s death was due to pneumonia and brain damage caused by tetanus which entered her system through a contaminated wound.

Mrs Creighton was first treated at Dewsbury District Hospital on March 28 last year. Dr Ed Walker, a specialist in emergency medicine at the hospital, said she had a clean wound that was treated and dressed. Notes he was given showed she had been vaccinated in 1995 and because of this and the type of wound he had decided she did not need another.

Yesterday, recording a verdict of accidental death, West Yorkshire coroner Roger Whittaker said he couldn’t criticise the various medical experts who hadn’t diagnosed tetanus. He said they had made considered judgments. It wasn’t until later that all the symptoms materialised.

He called for a better system that would allow doctors to quickly get information about patients’ immunisation records.

Speaking after the inquest Mrs Creighton’s daughter Janet Creighton said the family was keen to raise awareness of what could happen if people were not immunised.

“We want to make people aware that this can happen and urge them to check records with their doctors and make sure that they are covered. It could happen to anybody,” she said.

Mrs. Creighton’s husband Ronald said his family had done research and it appeared that those born before 1961 were especially at risk because that was when routine tetanus immunization began.

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