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When Did you Last Have a Tetanus Shot?

I received an e-mail this morning from my friend Martha Cavazos Fipps, the Environmental Education and Community Outreach Coordinator for the City of McKinney and a fellow Master Gardener, asking me for the article I had shared on Facebook a while back. I thought you might be interested in it too:

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious illness caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The bacteria lives in soil, manure and mulch. The bacteria can enter the body through a cut or puncture, like those you might get from a misplaced clipper or stepping on a rusty rake. The bacteria can also enter the body through an already established cut that comes in contact with the bacteria in soil or mulch. It occurs most frequently in hot and wet climates and where the soil contains a lot of organic matter (hopefully, you are adding a lot of organic matter to your garden).

Symptoms typically present in 3-21 days after infection. Tetanus causes painful muscle spasms; most commonly beginning in the jaw, and then progressing to the rest of the body. Spasms can be so severe that bone fractures may occur. Other symptoms include headache, fever, sweating, high blood pressure, fast heart beat and difficulty swallowing.

Tetanus is a medical emergency and requires treatment at a hospital. Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) may be needed, as well as ventilation if breathing is affected. It may take months to recover, and 10% of infected people die.

There is a simple solution, and one that is particularly important for gardeners who are at high risk of contracting tetanus: get a vaccine. It is a routine childhood immunization, but requires a booster every ten years.

Have I scared you enough that you will arrange for a tetanus vaccine? It’s such a simple thing (although your arm will be sore for a day or so) and it may save your life.

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