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Tetanus  
An ounce of prevention in a simple shot.

 

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Tetanus
An ounce of prevention in a simple shot.


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ImageIf you think back to your own childhood, you will probably remember your own parent warning you to "watch where you step— you might step on a rusty nail and get tetanus!" As annoying as the repeated warnings may have been, they were not without merit. Although rare (in part due to the prevalence of tetanus vaccinations), tetanus is a serious infection and any cut or puncture in the skin can leave the door open for the bacteria to enter the body.

Tetanus, more commonly referred to as "lockjaw," is a serious illness caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the tetanus bacteria lives in the soil, dust, saliva, and manure and may enter the body through a deep cut such as one made with a knife or by stepping on a nail. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) adds that the bacteria may even enter the body through scratches or tiny pinpricks.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note the following wounds as sites for possible infection:

  • Animal bites
  • Body piercings
  • Cuts
  • Lacerations
  • Scrapes
  • Splinters
  • Surgical wounds
  • Tattoos

Once in the body, the NFID states that the tetanus bacterium produces a bacterial toxin or poison that affects the nervous system. The most common first signs of tetanus include muscle stiffness in the jaw ("lockjaw") followed by stiffness in the neck, difficulty swallowing, rigidity of the abdominal muscles, generalized spasms, sweating, and fever. Tetanus is serious and can be life-threatening, with treatment and recovery sometimes requiring extensive hospitalization.

ImageHowever tetanus is preventable through the use of a series of vaccinations given in childhood, followed by booster shots every 10 years through adulthood to keep the body's resistance to the tetanus bacteria active. According to the NFID, a new combination vaccine called Tdap protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough), and should be used in people between the ages of 11 and 64 instead of the Td (tetanus-diphtheria vaccine). A person cannot get tetanus from the vaccine and tetanus cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

To help prevent tetanus and diphtheria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children and adults who have received a primary series of three vaccinations should get a Td booster every ten years. The NFID adds that the following individuals should get the Tdap or Td vaccination:

  • All adults aged 19-64 years who have not already received Tdap and have not had a Td booster immunization in the last 10 years should receive a single dose of Tdap (rather than Td). Adults 65 years and older who have not had a Td booster in the last 10 years should receive Td.
  • Adults who have never received immunization against tetanus.
  • Adults who are health care workers or who are in contact with infants under one year of age should also receive Tdap vaccine if they have not had a Td vaccination in the past two years, in order to protect against pertussis (whooping cough).
  • All adolescents and adults who deferred their regular booster during 2001-2002 due to shortages of the vaccine.
  • Adolescents aged 11-18 years who have not already received Tdap or Td should receive a single dose of Tdap (rather than Td) to add protection against pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Adults and adolescents who have recovered from tetanus disease.

Older adults and diabetics, who are at higher risk for tetanus, should also carefully review their history of tetanus immunization.

As the old adage says, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Consult with your family physician to see if a tetanus vaccination is recommended for your family members. Life is filled with "boo-boos," and you can help your family stay healthy and protect them from tetanus through preventative measures.

Always consult with your family physician or health care provider over any health issues or questions regarding you and your family.

Sources:
U.S. National Library of Medicine—www.nlm.nih.gov
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases—www.nfid.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—www.cdc.gov

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.



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