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immunization; vaccine; toxins; lock-jaw; spores;


What is tetanus?

Tetanus, or 'lock-jaw' as it is sometimes called, is a very serious illness.

horseIt is caused by the tetanus bacteria getting into a wound or cut and making a toxin (poison) which attacks the nervous system.

This makes muscles go into spasm and is very painful. Many of the people who get tetanus will die from it.

The tetanus bacteria grow from spores which are like seeds. Tetanus spores can survive in the soil for many years. Spores are in the soil in all parts of the world. In Australia they are often in soil where horses have been kept. 

Few people in Australia get tetanus now because they have been immunised against it, but there are spores still in the soil and someone who has not been immunised could still get tetanus.

How tetanus spores can get into the body

Tetanus spores can get into the body when:

* there are wounds or cuts which have been in contact with soil or animal poo a splinter in the hand
* there are deep wounds, like when someone has stepped on a rusty nail
* a splinter has stuck deep into the skin
* there are deep cuts or grazes
* the skin has been broken when a bone has been broken
* there are burns
* people use dirty needles (people addicted to illegal drugs might use them)
* someone is bitten by an animal.

The tetanus spores can sometimes get in through a small clean wound.

What tetanus is like

* Clench your jaw really hard until it hurts, then you have some idea what tetanus spasms feel like. You can relax now but if you had tetanus you wouldn't be able to relax because you would have no control over your muscles. (A spasm is when a muscle becomes very tight.)
* Some of the first muscles to be affected are those in the jaw, that's why tetanus is often called 'lock-jaw' (it is as though the jaws are locked together).
* The spasms then spread to the muscles in the neck, shoulders, back then the rest of the body. getting immunised
* It may be difficult to swallow or even to breathe.
* The whole body can be affected with painful spasms.

The person may have to be in hospital for a long time so that he or she can be watched carefully for breathing or other problems.

How to avoid tetanus

an injury to the footIn Australia everyone can have a full course of immunisation to protect from tetanus.

The first 3 doses are given at 2, 4 and 6 months, then another around 4 years and again around 15 years.

Tetanus booster shots are recommended every 10 years.

You can have the course at any age if you were not in Australia when you were little.

If someone gets a dirty or deep cut then the doctor may suggest another tetanus shot just to be on the safe side, especially for older people and people who have come from overseas if they have not had the full number of immunisations for tetanus.

Some facts and figures

  • an injury to the handAround 1 in 10 Australians who get tetanus will die, but very few Australians do get it because they have been immunised.
  • In some parts of Asia, Africa and South America tetanus kills about 800,000 babies each year.
  • Tetanus is most dangerous to babies or old people.
  • In World War 2 all Australian Servicemen and women were immunised against tetanus and not one person got it although many were wounded.
  • There were 2 cases of tetanus in Australia in 2012.
  • You can't catch tetanus from another person.

Dr Kate says

Dr Kate
If you get a wound like the ones described above, you won't get tetanus if you have been fully immunised, but other germs could grow there so you should always clean dirty wounds well with soap and water, and see your doctor if the wound becomes sore and red.

 If you are helping with jobs around the shed or the house remember to wear gloves to protect your hands and shoes to protect your feet.

Also remember to SLIP, SLOP, SLAP, SEEK and SLIDE when you are outside to protect yourself from the sun.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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