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Have You Had Your Tetanus Shot?


When was the last time you had a tetanus shot? I’m trying to remember the last time I had a booster . . . I’m thinking it was that time when I accidently stuck a pitch-fork into my foot, or maybe it was the time I cut myself on that rusty piece of barbed-wire fence. Or, maybe it was the time I nearly impaled myself with that hay-bale hook. Hmmm . . . that was a few years ago. I’m thinking given my track record with rusty, dirty objects it might be time for another. So, what exactly is tetanus, and why do you need a shot to protect against it? How often should your tetanus booster be updated? And what happens if you get tetanus? Keep reading for the answers to all of those questions – and more!

What is tetanus?
The disease of tetanus (or commonly called lockjaw) is not one you hear about too often in the “modern” world, as an effective vaccine was developed many years ago.  The vaccine is administered to most infants and children as a mandatory immunization.  It is often combined with other immunizing agents to prevent diseases such as pertussis and diphtheria.  The vaccine immunization does require boosters every ten years or so to retain its full effectiveness. 

Bacteria are the active agents in the disease of tetanus and can commonly be found in your everyday surroundings.  Dirt, dust and animal droppings can all contain the bacteria, usually in the form of spores.  If you get a significantly dirty wound, especially one where you’re exposed to animal feces in or around the wound area, the spores may be introduced into your body.  This is one of many reasons to keep wounds clean and well treated with antibiotic first aid creams. 

What happens if you get infected?
If the spores enter your body, they spawn bacteria by the thousands and invade your tissues.  The target for these bacteria is the nervous system.  The reason for the common name of lockjaw is that the bacteria interfere with the functions of the nerves and muscles around the head and jaw.  The bacteria produce toxic substances that affect the functions very quickly.  In advanced cases, the jaw locks closed and will not open causing breathing difficulties and eating problems.  The area around the chest and neck can be affected by muscle spasms as well, causing more potential breathing and motion difficulties.  The disease can be fatal and often is if left undiscovered for a short period of time in a non-immunized body.  It spreads rapidly and treatments are not always effective. 

How do you know if you’re at risk?
Everyone gets cuts, so when should you go to a doctor suspecting tetanus?  If your cut for some reason gets dirty and you are unable to clean it effectively, you should probably check in with a doctor when possible.  Fairly certain signs of tetanus are muscle spasms in the neck, mouth and jaw area.  Uncontrolled spasms can be scary enough on their own, but can be fatal if they really are caused by the tetanus bacteria.  Another time to seek medical advice or treatment is if you have cause to worry and you are not sure or have not had a tetanus immunization booster within 10 years.  The doctor may actually prescribe a booster dose immediately if the nature of your immunization status can not be determined precisely.  Prevention is by far the best medicine where tetanus is involved. 

After you go to the doctor, there are not any tests to detect the certainty of tetanus except for a physical examination and list of the symptoms.  If you are decided to be at risk, the treatments will require long hospital stays and drugs to relax your muscles.  Your breathing will be closely monitored and possibly aided mechanically.  You will receive shots of tetanus vaccine and possibly some very powerful antibiotics.  Many patients recover fully, but not all, so for tetanus the immunization vaccine is of paramount importance. 

Ok, enough said. I’m on my way to the doc’s office right now . . .

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