Travel Health; Tetanus
We have been blessed with great weather recently. I personally love a warm summer’s day because it benefits everyone. Whether you like to lie in the sun and sunbathe, try some outdoorsy sports or take the kids out! Which brings us to this week’s blog topic: tetanus.
Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani getting into an open wound. Open wounds can be any of the following, but not limited to, cuts/scrapes/tears/splits in the skin, burns, animal bites, piercings/tattoos, injections and eye injuries. Tetanus bacteria can survive for a long time outside the body, and are commonly found in soil and the manure of animals such as horses and cows.Once the bacteria enter the body it can very quickly multiply and release a toxin that affects the nerves. However, it is important to note that tetanus is not contagious and cannot be spread from one person to another.
Tetanus is fortunately a preventable disease, however, if left untreated it can be fatal. Therefore, it is extremely important to ensure that you are protected. There is a risk of tetanus throughout the world therefore, many countries will provide the tetanus vaccine as part of the routine childhood vaccines regimen. A common misperception is that the vaccine lasts a lifetime. This unfortunately is not true, even if you have had the full childhood boosters, you will require a follow up booster every ten years to ensure you are protected. The follow up boosters come in the form of a combined inactivated vaccine named DTP containing protection against diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
If you have been infected, symptoms of tetanus will usually develop 4 to 21 days after infection. On average, they start after around 10 days and can include:
- stiffness in your jaw muscles (lockjaw), which can make opening your mouth difficult
- painful muscle spasms, which can make breathing and swallowing difficult
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
- a rapid heartbeat
If you experience any of these symptoms and have a wound that had previously been exposed to soil or dirt, you must seek medical advice immediately.
If your doctor thinks you could develop tetanus but you haven't had any symptoms yet, they'll clean your wounds and give you an injection of tetanus immunoglobulin. They may also give you a dose of the tetanus vaccine if you haven't been fully vaccinated in the past. Tetanus immunoglobulin provides immediate, but short-term, protection from tetanus.
If you develop symptoms of tetanus, you'll usually need to be admitted to a hospital intensive care unit (ICU), where you may be given tetanus immunoglobulin, antibiotics and medication to relieve muscle stiffness and spasms. Most people who develop symptoms of tetanus eventually recover, although it can take several weeks or months.
For more information on childhood vaccines you can visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tetanus/.
Take on messages from today’s blog:
- Vaccination against tetanus is extremely important if you are visiting risky areas and can be the best way to protect yourself against the infection.
- It is important to be precautious and follow travel advice even if you are vaccinated.
For more information on vaccinations, call our travel health clinic at 0203 630 1244.