Make sure your family is protected against tetanus

Summer fun often includes lots of time outside, and more than likely some of that time is spent barefoot. When shoes are optional, cuts and scrapes happen more often. Bacteria in the soil can work their way into your body through those cuts and scrapes and make you sick with tetanus.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that affects your nervous system. The bacteria invade the body and produce a toxin that causes your muscles to tighten and cramp painfully. Infection mainly affects the neck, chest, and stomach. Complete recovery can take months, and if it’s not treated it can be deadly. The last reported case in Idaho was in 2013.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Tetanus is also called “lockjaw” because it often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to tighten, making it hard to open the mouth or to swallow. It can also cause breathing problems that lead to death, severe muscle spasms, and seizures. The muscle spasms can be strong enough to break your bones.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for tetanus, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms until they go away. Treatment can include hospitalization, medications including human tetanus globulin, antibiotics, and drugs to control muscle spasms, as well as aggressive wound care.

How is it spread?

You can’t catch it from someone who has it. The bacteria are found in soil, dust and manure, and they typically enter the body through cuts or puncture wounds. Symptoms typically begin 7-10 days after exposure for people who have never been vaccinated or adults who have not kept up with their immunizations.

What is the best way to prevent infection?

A vaccine is your best protection. Tetanus cases are rare in the United States because of the vaccine. If you are not vaccinated for it, however, the risk is higher.

Aren’t there some age-specific things to consider about tetanus vaccines?

The DTaP vaccine, which is for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (or whooping cough), is very effective in preventing tetanus in young children. DTaP shots are recommended for babies at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, and again at 15 through 18 months of age. A DTaP booster is recommended for children ages 4 through 6 years old.

Vaccine protection from tetanus decreases over time, so children need to get the Tdap vaccine as a booster when they are 11 or 12. Tdap contains tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (or whooping cough) vaccines.

Adults who got the Tdap as a child or teen need to get a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years to stay protected. For adults who didn’t get Tdap when they were younger, the easiest thing to do is to get Tdap instead of their next regular Td booster, especially if they will be near a baby younger than 2 months. Tdap will help protect infants  against whooping cough (pertussis), which is a component not found in the Td booster.

It’s a good idea to talk to a doctor about what’s best for you, based on your immunization history.

(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from July 19.)

Resources

Tetanus: Make sure your family is protected

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