Extension Ag Update
March/April 2007
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More Than Half the Adults in U.S. Are Not Protected Against Tetanus

Ellen Phillips, ephillps@uiuc.edu, (708) 352-0109

A recent survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control indicated that 76 percent of consumers knew that a tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years. Yet more than half of all adults have not kept their immunization shots up-to-date. Those in contact with soil through farming, work or gardening need to recognize their risk.

Often adults associate tetanus with rusty nails, yet there are two potentially fatal diseases, tetanus and diphtheria that are caused by exposure to the disease causing soil bacteria. Tetanus bacteria are found everywhere in the environment including soil, dust, insects bites and animal bites. Symptoms may not show up for 3 days to 3 weeks. The first symptoms often include stiffness in the neck and trouble swallowing. Later paralysis and death can occur. Tetanus is not contagious.

Diphtheria is caused by bacteria. It is most of a concern when traveling abroad where the disease is not as controlled through immunization as it is in the U.S. Diphtheria is contagious so vaccination is the best line of defense. This disease is difficult to diagnose, complicated to treat and often requires months of recovery or can possibly end in death.

How do you keep yourself safe? Make certain your children are immunized. Check with your doctor for your immunization records. Boosters should be given every 10 years. Wear gloves and protective clothes when working with soil. Thoroughly clean cuts and scratches immediately. Of all the tetanus cases reported between 1998 and 2000, 31 percentcame from injuries while gardening or farming. Tetanus and diphtheria are two diseases that can be avoided with immunizations and proper care when working in the soil.