It’s the time of year when many of us spend a lot of time outside, so we need to remind ourselves of the dangers of tetanus.
Tetanus is a deadly disease, fatal in 30 per cent of cases. You cannot get tetanus from someone else like a cold – it’s caused by a bacterial toxin that can be found in soil and manure. So any injury to the skin contaminated with soil or manure – indoors or outdoors, could let tetanus spores into a wound and cause a tetanus infection, including animal bites and intravenous drug use – not just rusty nails or old metal.
The bacterial toxin that causes tetanus affects the nervous system, leading to painful muscle contractions particularly in the jaw and neck muscles (which is why it’s sometimes called lockjaw). It can interfere with the ability to breathe, the ability to swallow, and cause painful body spasms.
Tetanus is rare in developed countries like Canada because of high immunization coverage.
There is no cure for tetanus. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and complications until the effects of the toxin resolve, which can take months. This is why keeping your tetanus immunization up-to-date is so important.
The tetanus vaccine is part of combination vaccines called Tdap which might also include diphtheria and pertussis. It’s recommended children receive vaccines for tetanus in a series of five immunizations, starting at two months of age, and receive a booster in Grade 8.
Adults should receive a tetanus booster every 10 years, unless they have an injury and it has been more than five years since their last tetanus containing vaccine. One of those tetanus boosters after the age of 18 should be a Tdap. Pregnant women should receive a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy preferably between 27 and 32 weeks gestation (specifically for the pertussis component)
Don’t wait. Protect yourself.