The infection that used to be called lockjaw, and now referred to as tetanus, is a disabling and life threatening sickness. It is caused by a bacterium, Clostridium tetani, which inhabits soil and manure. It is common throughout the environment, and the illness is caused when the bacteria or its spores enter an open wound.
Bacterial spores are bacteria in a state of almost suspended animation, and they can persist in soil and dust for many years.They will become active again and start to multiply when they are given the right conditions of moisture, temperature and nutrients, and they get these in abundance in an open wound.
Almost any type of wound can be infected, but deep puncture wounds are most at risk. When the bacteria or spores enter a wound and start to multiply, the create a toxin, which is the actual cause of the illness. Tetanus affects the muscular and nervous systems and the first symptoms of the illness are usually muscle spasms in the muscles nearest to the wound site. These soon spread, usually to the face primarily, then to other areas. Left untreated, tetanus has a fatality rate of about 60%.
Tetanus usually takes between two days and 21 days (or sometimes even more) to become noticeable, so when you get a cut that might be a problem, it is worth having it deal with at once, or else you are liable to forget while tetanus is incubating in your system.
In most of the developed world, there are well established and extremely effective immunization programs that start in childhood, and continue routinely through adult life, and most people who are now adults will probably be well protected. It is possible, however, that some of the older may not.
The vaccinations used are typically multiple vaccines, protecting against tetanus, pertussis and diphtheria, but several variants are available. After the primary series is given, booster shots are given every ten years.
So when should you get a tetanus shot ?. If you do not for sure of your protection status, any penetrating wound, including animal bites should be followed to a visit to the Doctor to get your protection up to date. Even if you know that you have had a full program of immunizations, any deep or dirty wounds, especially those that may be contaminated with manure or soil may require an additional injection of human tetanus immunoglobulin may be given as an additional safeguard.
If your work brings you into frequent contact with soil, or with horses, you must make sure your protection is kept up to date, as is the case if you are traveling to some of the poorer parts of the world outside Europe or the US
Are you sure you are protected? If not, take heed!