Posted on Feb 6, 2012 in Health & safety
I just pricked the tip of my finger on something rusty, and it’s been about three years since my last tetanus shot. Do I need another shot now? And what is tetanus, anyway?
Ah, tetanus. Who didn’t grow up in the last 40 years or so and not get threatened by your mom/dad/legal guardian upon finding some rusty piece of junk and waving it above your head like Excalibur:
“Put that down! You’ll cut yourself and get tetanus!”
Now, before we get to your questions, I feel a tapping on my shoulder and the distinct stare of someone whose name ends in “Esq.” on my back, which can only mean it’s time for the…
Finder’s Free Super Happy Fun Legal Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and I haven’t played one on TV — though I did watch the first 7 seasons of E.R. religiously and spent a few years as a NYS EMT-D. Consult with your doctor before doing anything rash, m’kay?
Tetanus, as defined by the National Institute of Health is “[an] infection of the nervous system with the potentially deadly bacteria Clostridium tetani (C. tetani).”
Once better known as “lockjaw” (since the effects were often first noted in the jaw), tetanus is a nasty disease. The C. tetani bacteria releases a toxin called tetanospasmin, which blocks the nerve signals from the spinal cord to the muscles, causing muscle spasms so powerful they can actually cause fractures of the spine. Untreated, 1 out of 4 people will die from it, with the rate far higher in newborns. With proper treatment, the survival rate increases to over 90%.
Although tetanus is most connected in childhood lore with rusty metal objects, the truth is the C. tetani spores live in soil — and are found all over the world. Any wound that ends up with dirt in it will leave that person susceptible to a potential tetanus infection — unless your shots are up to date.
The NIH recommends you contact your health provider if:
So, if your last shot was three years ago, you should be fine — that’s what the booster vaccines are for. According to this patient handout from Advance for Nurses, you should get a tetanus booster every 10 years, as effectiveness falls off with time. Other recommendations for when you should get your tetanus booster are:
Many people take the threat of tetanus lightly — and since vaccination is practically 100% effective, that’s not a completely terrible way to think. However, you should only think this way if you keep up on your tetanus boosters. A couple bucks and an hour at your doctor’s office every ten years is a pretty small outlay of cash and time to keep from coming down with a nasty case of tetanus.
Image: Micrograph of a group of Clostridium tetani bacteria, courtesy CDC
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