BSAFE Physical Health

TETANUS: MAKE SURE YOUR VACCINATIONS ARE KEPT UP TO DATE

Published: December 14, 2018

This real life incident is a reminder of how important it is to make sure that all your vaccinations are up to date

We recently had a case where one of the crew grazed his elbow – a simple Injury that did not require any medical attention apart from an antiseptic wipe and sticking plaster.

However, he started to suffer muscle spasms and a stiffness in his jaw and was later found to have tetanus.

Most of us are aware that we need to be vaccinated against the disease, but few people really know much about tetanus and how serious it can be.

Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacterium called clostridium tetani which is found in dirt and manure. The bacterium gets into your body via a wound (this can include tattoos and body piercings) and produces a toxin that causes symptoms such as fever and muscle spasms. These spasms can be severe enough to break bones and can cause trouble breathing. If the spasms are in the area around the mouth and jaw, then this is what gives tetanus its nickname – lockjaw.

THE DISEASE CAN BE SEVERE AND, IF UNTREATED, CAN CAUSE DEATH IN AROUND 30% OF CASES. ALTHOUGH NOT A COMMON DISEASE, LAST YEAR THERE WERE 13,500 CASES WORLDWIDE. 

The best way to prevent the bacterium taking hold is by a series of vaccinations. This will usually start in childhood and is then followed by top up boosters every 5 to 10 years. If you are concerned that a wound is infected, a doctor can give an injection of immune globulin straight away to fight the infection. However, if you start to develop any tetanus symptoms, you must seek hospital treatment as a matter of urgency.

The crewmember in our case spent time in hospital in the intensive care unit but luckily made a good recovery.

This case is a reminder of how Important it is to make sure that all your vaccinations are up to date.

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