Published: 31st May 2011
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Clostridium tetani is a bacteria. Tetanus bacterium is usually found in the stomach and intestines of horses. It does not bother horses. Wherever horses defecate on the ground, there is tetanus that is virile for probably thousands of years. Spores from the sealed pyramids in Egypt have regrown the bacteria after thousands of years. This is because the bacterium of tetanus usually looks similar to a lollipop. The tail or handle of the lollipop is filled with balls called spores. Spores are very resilient and can survive in different environments for thousands of years. When placed back in the favorable environment, they develop and grow into new bacteria.

If Tetanus in dirt gets under fingernails and on healthy unbroken skin, there is no problem. If you get a cut or laceration and get the spores into an open wound or deep abrasion of skin or in orifices like the mouth, nose, eyes, sinuses, ears or rectum, tetanus spores may grow and form new tetanus bacterium. The tetanus toxin that causes the damage is a naturally occurring by-product. It is emitted from the bacteria. This toxin paralyzes our muscles causing severe unrelenting muscle spasms and our inability to breathe leading to possible death.

Tetanus is given as an immunization to children, adults and geriatric patients. The immunization prevents the growth of spores in an opportunistic site. This tetanus immunization is necessary for our immune system to be stimulated and remember how to kill the tetanus bacteria. Tetanus can take up to about 21 days to kill you. There is a maximal safe window of about 48 - 72 hours to get the tetanus shot and antibiotics. The sooner the immunization after potential infection, the better and safer the patient should be. There is a quiet period of hours, days, or weeks. But once the bacteria invade and the toxin takes hold of the body, the damage is irreversible. There have been several tetanus deaths in the state of Georgia in the past few years.

There are several criteria for people of ages 15 to 60 for every 5 to 10 years when to get tetanus shot re-immunizations. Children receive dT at birth to 5 years in separate doses as part of their childhood immunizations. Immunization depends on common sense. For example, if you're a jockey that fell off a horse into horse excrement, broke your leg, had a laceration filled with horse manure, and your last tetanus shot was 4 years ago, we would probably strongly suggest you get another tetanus shot even though it still hasn't been 5 years. It's better safe than sorry. When in doubt, you should usually get re-immunized. Tetanus vaccines are usually given with Diphtheria vaccine up to age 60. One should keep a record of all vaccinations and do not overlook simple but possible fatal immunization problems. Remember: Flu vaccination is the most preventative cause of approximately 40,000 yearly deaths and about 1/3 of a million hospitalizations per year, followed by tetanus and pneumonia. Clostridium tetani, Clostridium difficile (C-diff) and clostridium botulism are similar family members that can cause death from release of toxins if not correctly treated. People over the age of 60 usually get dT vaccination and people under 60 get intramuscular TT vaccinations.

John Drew Laurusonis, MD

Doctors Medical Center

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