I’ve had parents often come into the emergency room after their child has taken a tumble asking for a Tetanus vaccine, which is why I felt the need to write a post explaining what Tetanus is and why we need to vaccinate our kids.
WHAT IS TETANUS?
Tetanus is a disease commonly known as lockjaw. It is caused by the bacteria, Clostridium tetani and can be fatal. The toxin from the bacteria affects the nervous system and causes severe painful muscle spasms, which can interfere with the ability to breathe. Currently there is no cure for Tetanus and treatment is mainly symptomatic until the effects of the toxin wear off. Complete recovery can take up to several months.
WHERE IS THE BACTERIA FOUND?
Clostridial spores can be found everywhere. They are found in soil, dust and animal faeces (including humans). Once the spores enter a wound they grow into mature bacteria, which produce the powerful toxin. Clostridium tetani is found worldwide.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF TETANUS?
Signs and symptoms of tetanus can appear anytime from a few days to a few weeks from infection:
- Spasms and stiffness of jaw muscles (hence the name lockjaw);
- Spasms and stiffness of the neck muscles;
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Spasms and stiffness of other body muscles, commonly the abdominal muscles;
- Other constitutional symptoms such as fever, sweating and palpitations.
I won’t go into too much detail regarding the various combination vaccines as there are many and every country has its own recommendations. A copy of the latest South African immunisation schedule can be downloaded from my resources page. The WHO recommends an initial 6-dose schedule to achieve tetanus immunity.
1. Primary vaccination
Three primary doses of the vaccine are recommended in childhood starting from 6 weeks.
2. Booster vaccination
Three booster doses are recommended prior to adolescence. Booster vaccines are then recommended every 10 years thereafter.
- This is any wound that has been contaminated with material that could contain tetanus spores;
- This is any wound that is deep;
- This is any wound that is dirty;
- This is any wound that contains a foreign body.
Note: any wound can be tetanus-prone – cuts, scrapes, burns, animal (including human) and insect bites.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
It is recommended you see a doctor if:
- Your child has a tetanus-prone wound and has not had a booster vaccine in the last 5 years;
- Your child has a minor, clean wound and has not had a booster vaccine in the last 10 years;
- Your child has a wound and you cannot remember when their last booster vaccine was.
CDC (2018) Tetanus. [online]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/tetanus.html#contraindications [Accessed 30 August 2018].
WHO (2018) Tetanus vaccines: WHO position paper, February 2017 – Recommendations. Vaccine. [online] 36 (25). Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.02.034 [Accessed 30 August 2018].
WHO (2018) Tetanus. [online]. http://www.who.int/ith/vaccines/tetanus/en/ [Accessed 30 August 2018].