Tetanus Dangers May Await Spring Gardeners

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 07, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

April 7, 2004 -- Gardeners may unknowingly be digging up dangerous disease-causing bacteria when they return to their plots this spring.

A new survey shows 57% of adults don't know that tetanus bacteria are commonly found in soil, dirt, and manure. Despite the fact that about a third of tetanus infection occurs while gardening, researchers found that 40% of those surveyed aren't protected against the infection.

Tetanus is a nerve condition that occurs when humans become infected with a bacteria commonly found in the environment known as Clostridium tetani. Bacterial spores are found in soil as well as in human or animal waste. Humans become infected with the bacteria when spores enter an open wound, such as a cut or scrape, and enter the bloodstream.

Tetanus commonly causes muscle rigidity and painful spasms usually starting at the top of the body. Lockjaw is often the first symptom, followed by stiffness in the neck and abdomen and problems swallowing. Symptoms appear anywhere from days to weeks after infection.

Immunization is the best way to protect against tetanus in the U.S. Vaccine protection against tetanus must be boosted every 10 years with a combined vaccine known as Td, which also protects against diphtheria. But according to the CDC, 53% of people in the U.S. aged 20 years and older are not adequately protected against tetanus and diphtheria.

"Tetanus is rare in the U.S. today, but it's difficult to tell when you may be exposed, and the potential consequences can be devastating," says Susan Rehm, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, in a news release. "Because you can never tell when you might be exposed to tetanus, it is important for all healthy adolescents and adults to protect themselves against the disease with a booster shot every 10 years."

Tetanus Dangers Lurk in More Than Rusty Nails

The telephone survey of more than 2,000 households commissioned by the National Gardening Association in January shows that many people are unaware of the tetanus dangers lurking in their home, garden, or yard.

Researchers found 80% of gardeners surveyed had sustained an injury that could put them at risk for tetanus infection, including scratches, insect bites, cuts, scrapes, splinters, puncture wounds, and pet or animal bites.

In addition, the survey shows that only 35% of gardeners recognize that wounds caused by animal or insect bites are potential sources of infection.

According to the CDC, 31% of tetanus injuries occur in the yard, garden, or farm and 23% happen at other outdoor locations.

Since the late 1940s, children in the U.S. have been vaccinated against tetanus with a combined vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).

Adults over 60 may have never had this series. In those cases, the Td vaccine series can be used to provide protection against tetanus and diphtheria. Vaccine protection with the Td vaccine must be boosted every 10 years.

Show Sources

SOURCE: News release, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases/National Coalition for Adult Immunization.

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