St Andrew's Ipswich Private Hospital.
St Andrew's Ipswich Private Hospital.

Man in 60s battles rare infection for six months in hospital

AN Ipswich man in his 60s has been discharged after spending close to six months in hospital fighting a rare bacterial infection.

The 69-year-old presented himself to St Andrew’s Ipswich Private Hospital around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic unable to eat and with gastro symptoms.

He had been spending time on his brother’s farm.

The 69-year-old spent six weeks in the intensive care unit at St Andrew’s
The 69-year-old spent six weeks in the intensive care unit at St Andrew’s

The man was in the intensive care unit for two weeks before he was diagnosed with tetanus by intensive care director Dr Satnam Solanki.

Since 1995, less than 10 cases of tetanus have been reported each year across the country according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

About two-thirds of those cases have been in people 65 or older.

The infection attacks the central nervous system and Dr Solanki said anyone over the age of 65 who contracts it is lucky to survive.

“There is no specific diagnostic test that is available,” he said.

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“People who get it have quite severe muscle spasms and it’s caused by toxins producing bacteria.

“This bacteria is found in soil everywhere. In the modern world it’s been virtually eliminated.

“The bacteria gains access into the human body by an injury … usually through a dirty nail or a splinter or a roadside accident where the wounds are quite contaminated.

“Once inside the body, the toxins slowly travel up into your nerves and reach your spinal chord and brain stem. The nerves are constantly fighting. The whole body goes into absolutely painful muscle spasms.

“People usually die of respiratory failure.”

St Andrew's Ipswich Private Hospital intensive care director Dr Satnam Solanki.
St Andrew's Ipswich Private Hospital intensive care director Dr Satnam Solanki.

The patient was in intensive care for about six weeks and required a ventilator after a tracheostomy was performed.

He was heavily sedated with medication to prevent muscle spasms.

In those six weeks in the ICU, the man lost most of his muscle mass.

He needed to spend a further three months in the rehabilitation unit to redevelop basic motor skills and his speech.

The man was able to return home for a short visit towards the end of his recovery and was only recently discharged.

“Essentially he needed to relearn how to eat, drink, walk - everything,” Dr Solanki said.

“Whatever is required to live a normal life.

“Before he was discharged he regained all of the muscles he lost, he gained all his weight back and he was standing on his feet and walking.”

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Dr Solanki said this case, even though it was a very rare occurrence, was an important reminder for the older members of the community to be alert.

“A lot of people don’t know that immunity against tetanus, it sort of fades away if you’re not getting any booster immunisation every 10 years,” he said.

“When you reach this age around 60 to 65, you hardly receive any boosters.

“The only thing you receive every year is the flu vaccine.”

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.



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