Health experts remind of importance of tetanus shot when going through storm debris

Published 10:36 am Friday, March 31, 2023

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As residents, responders, and volunteers continue cleaning up the damage caused by the EF3 tornado that struck Troup County early Sunday, District 4 Public Health reminds individuals that a tetanus shot is recommended if it’s been 10 years or more since their last vaccination.

“If someone accidentally steps on a rusty nail or gets cut on broken glass, they may just clean up the wound and move on,” said Leslie Leonard, nurse manager at the Troup County Health Department. “When you’re in the middle of so much metal, mud and debris, it’s important to see if you need a tetanus shot, especially if it’s a deep puncture wound or cut.”

Tetanus is a rare but serious illness caused when C. tetani bacteria — usually found in soil, dust and manure — enter the body through breaks in the skin, usually by cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects.

The illness does not spread from person to person. However, people most at risk are those who have never had a tetanus shot or have not stayed up to date on their 10-year vaccinations. When left untreated, tetanus causes fatalities in up to 30 percent of unvaccinated people infected with the illness.

“When you stay up to date with your tetanus shots, your immune system is ready to protect you in case tetanus bacteria enters your body through broken skin,” said Natalie Shelton, District 4’s public information officer. “If you’re not immunized, it can cause your muscles to tighten. This can cause your mouth to ‘lock’ shut, which is why some people refer to it as ‘lockjaw.’ If it isn’t treated, that muscle stiffness can spread and even cause death in some cases.”

Shelton said the most important tools to prevent illness during the clean-up process are soap and clean water. People should wash their hands frequently and keep minor cuts and scrapes clean. People should also seek medical care for more serious cuts or wounds.

“Public health officials normally recommend adults receive a tetanus vaccine (Td or Tdap) every 10 years. However, if you experience a deep cut or puncture wound while clearing storm debris your health care provider may recommend a tetanus booster if it’s been more than five years since your last dose,” Shelton said. 

Leonard said individuals in direct contact with recent floodwaters or mud left behind should also make sure their tetanus vaccinations are up-to-date, especially if they already had existing open wounds or cuts.

“When clearing storm debris, one should wear sturdy (preferably hard-bottom) shoes or boots,” Johnny Langley, District 4’s interim emergency preparedness director said. “When high temperatures are not an issue, long sleeves and long pants are recommended. People are also strongly urged to wear thick gloves and protective glasses or goggles to lessen the chance for injuries.”

Local health departments, health care providers and pharmacists, offer Td and Tdap vaccines.

The Td vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria, while the Tdap vaccine protects again tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).

“If you’d like to get your tetanus booster at your local health department, now is also a great time to bring your children along and get any vaccines and screenings they may need to attend school in the fall,” Shelton said. “That way you can avoid potentially long wait times when it gets closer to the start of a new school year.”

For more information on District 4 Public Health or to make an appointment to receive a tetanus shot, call (800) 847-4262.