Tetanus is a nasty bacterial infection that was very prevalent before the vaccine became available in 1924.
Previously known as lockjaw, tetanus causes muscles in your body to spasm and stiffen; it can be fatal if not treated.
The tetanus bacteria live in all parts of the world in soil, manure and dust; it enters your body through cuts and abrasions.
The symptoms of tetanus include headaches, sweating, fever, swallowing difficulties, muscle spasm and stiffness. The most serious symptom is the “lockjaw” or stiffness of the jaw which can lead to suffocation.
Symptoms start to occur around eight days after the bacteria enter the body. Tetanus can be successfully treated with medication, but prevention is a much better way of dealing with the risk of this infection.
When people think of tetanus, they think of stepping on a rusty nail or cutting their foot on glass or metal while outdoors. These are certainly not the only ways that you could be exposed to the tetanus bacteria.
Any type of occurrence where the skin is broken has the potential to lead to tetanus if you have not been vaccinated, even body piercings, surgical wounds, drug use by injection, animal bites, tattoos, splinters, any cut or abrasion.
A tetanus shot is the inactivated toxin of the tetanus bacteria, injected into a muscle. It isn’t a live vaccine and so your immunity will decline over time, and a booster will be required.
This is why, if you do sustain an injury that could potentially involve the tetanus bacteria, the doctor will ask you when you last had a tetanus booster to make certain you are adequately covered.
If you are not sure, or if it was over five years ago, you will be given a tetanus shot. This may be the only time you would be given tetanus as a single shot; it is usually combined with protection from other diseases in the one vaccine.
Infants are routinely vaccinated against tetanus as part of their baby inoculations, when the tetanus toxin is combined with diphtheria. They receive four shots at approximately 2, 4, and 6 months, then again at 18 months and 5 years, before starting school.
Adolescents then receive a booster at the age of 12 years. Adults should have a booster every ten years. Very few people experience any reaction to their tetanus shots, apart from a little soreness, redness and maybe swelling, at the injection site.
Some infants may react with fever, nausea and loss of appetite, but this passes fairly quickly and has decreased in recent years with an increase in the purity of the vaccine.
While there are limited circumstances where people should not be given a tetanus shot, for the vast majority of the population, it is a sensible precaution to take against the possibility of becoming infected with the tetanus bacteria.
This is one serious infection that can be vaccinated against and we should all front up for our tetanus shots to be protected.