July 27, 2005
UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Reports of
people who have suffered or died
from vaccine-preventable diseases
TODDLER SUFFERS SEPTICEMIA, MENINGITIS, AND MULTI-ORGAN
FAILURE AS COMPLICATIONS OF HAEMOPHILUS INFLUENZAE TYPE B INFECTION
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July 27, 2005
UNPROTECTED PEOPLE #77: TODDLER SUFFERS SEPTICEMIA, MENINGITIS, AND
MULTI-ORGAN FAILURE AS COMPLICATIONS OF HAEMOPHILUS INFLUENZAE TYPE B
The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) publishes articles about people who
have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases and periodically
devotes an IAC Express issue to such an article. This is the 77th in our
Two months after 18-month-old Helena Harding was hospitalized with
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), her parents publicized her ordeal with
the hope of educating others about the disease and of encouraging parents to
have their children immunized. Prior to her illness, her parents had no
knowledge of Hib and the vaccine that prevents it. Helena paid a high price
for their ignorance: she developed septicemia, meningitis, and multi-organ
failure as complications of Hib infection. Fortunately, she recovered and
apparently has no permanent injury from her illness.
Trevor Harding, Helena's father, said he and Helena's mother had been
unaware that Hib vaccine existed and could not recall receiving any
prompting to have their daughter vaccinated against the disease. The missed
opportunity to vaccinate Helena is exasperating. Had she been vaccinated,
her suffering would almost certainly have been avoided. The various
conjugate Hib vaccines are highly immunogenic, and more than 95% of infants
develop protective antibody levels after a primary series of two or three
doses. In addition, serious adverse reactions to the vaccine are rare.
The account below appeared on December 28, 2000, in the Daily Telegraph, an
online newspaper published in the United Kingdom. Written by medical editor
Celia Hall, it was titled "Babies who are not vaccinated 'risk death.'" It
is reprinted below with the kind permission of the Telegraph Group Ltd.,
which holds the copyright.
Doctors have warned parents about the danger of children not having
vaccinations after a girl almost died from a bacterial infection that caused
Helena Harding suffered a heart attack and had to be resuscitated at Great
Ormond Street Hospital in October. She was suffering Haemophilus influenzae
type b, or Hib, which was introduced into the routine vaccination program
for children in 1993.
The 18-month-old girl has since made a "fantastic" recovery. But her parents
said they wanted to warn others of the risks if they decided not to have
their children protected against diseases.
Hib used to be a major cause of bacterial meningitis but it has been almost
eradicated since the introduction of a vaccine in the first year of life.
Dr. Christine Pierce, intensive care consultant at Great Ormond Street, who
cared for Helena, said they had not seen a case like it for four or five
She said: "All the cases we see now are due to parents choosing not to
vaccinate their children. Helena was extremely unwell. She was in
multi-organ failure. She was extremely lucky to make such a good recovery.
About 70 to 80 percent of children with this illness are left with some form
of brain damage.
"Hib is a particularly nasty and devastating disease and parents need to be
aware of the risks. The problem is that a lot of people are putting off
having vaccines but are not always aware of the consequences. They are
sometimes making choices without all the information."
Helena's father, Trevor Harding, told the London Evening Standard how they
took their sick daughter to the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, because
she was "floppy and gray-looking." The day before, Helena had been taken by
her mother, Elizabeth Saunders, to see a GP while on a family visit to
Norfolk. She was told the child was probably suffering from a virus and was
well enough to go home.
Mr. Harding said: "As soon as my partner saw the look on the faces of the
nurses she realized there was something seriously wrong." Helena was
diagnosed with Hib, which caused septicemia and meningitis. Mr. Harding said
he felt "total despair" even after she was discharged from intensive care.
He said: "She was still staring into space and waving her arms about."
But later when he was sitting with his daughter at midnight, talking to her
and holding her hand, she smiled. He said: "I knew she had come back. She
has made a fantastic recovery and she is almost back to 100 percent, walking
and running around. I remember thinking that we were going to lose our
little girl or that if we didn't lose her she might not ever be the same
A number of vaccine scares have persuaded some parents not to have their
children vaccinated. Most recently, a suggestion that the measles, mumps,
and rubella vaccine (MMR) might be linked to autism in children caused
another dip in the number of vaccinations.
Mr. Harding said the MMR debate had "clouded the issues." But he added that
they had not been "really aware" of Hib vaccination and had received no
reminder. He said: "I would certainly urge other parents to get it. It's a
matter of balancing up the risks and trying to come to decide what is the
best thing to do."
Bacterial meningitis is rare but causes meningitis, inflammation of the
membranes that cover the brain, and epiglottitis, another rare but serious
infection in children. It causes inflammation of the epiglottis, which
obstructs breathing and can cause death by suffocation if not treated
To access the article from the archives of the Daily Telegraph, click
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know if you find articles or case reports about people who have suffered or
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