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Summertime and Tetanus

Are your kids ready for Summer?

Summertime means camping and spending time playing outdoors.  In addition to having plenty of fluids, sunscreen, and insect repellent- it is important to be sure that your child is up to date with a tetanus vaccine.

Tetanus is a serious infection caused by the bacteria, Clostridium tetani, that live in the soil. It is impossible to eradicate C. tetani from the environment, even here in the United States.  When kids are playing outside, this bacteria can enter into their bodies through the smallest cut or scrape; and almost every child at one time or another has fallen on the sidewalk and scraped a knee or elbow.

What are the symptoms?

A patient with tetanus will complain about a tight and clenching jaw, painful muscle spasms that will not relax, and difficulty breathing.  In 2017, there was a boy who contracted tetanus after experiencing a cut to his forehead.  He went to the hospital six days later with episodes of crying, jaw clenching, involuntary and painful muscle spasms, arching of the neck and back, and difficulty breathing.  He required intensive medical care in a hospital for 8 weeks, during which he required an external opening in his trachea for ventilator support, and then took over 1.5 months before he could take small sips of water.  After discharge from the hospital, he required lengthy rehabilitation.

In 2015, there were a total of 29 cases of tetanus reported and 2 cases of death in the US.  Most of these tetanus cases were in persons younger than 20 years of age.  However, in under-developed countries, there are approximately 1 million cases of tetanus reported worldwide each year and 300,000-500,000 deaths.

How to prevent tetanus?

The saddest part of the story above is that tetanus is preventable with a vaccine. Unfortunately, the boy’s parents refused vaccination.  As a result, the boy experienced a potentially life-threatening illness with a tremendous amount of pain.

It is recommended that infants begin their vaccine against tetanus starting at 2 months of age, with regular boosters given until 11 years of age.  At that time, young adults should have a tetanus shot every 10 years. If a wound is serious and bad, then a tetanus shot is recommended if the last one was given over 5 years ago.

At West Plano Pediatrics, we provide tetanus shots for all infants, teens, and young adults.  Please be sure that your child is up to date and ready to face the fun and dirt of summer!

Article written by Dr. Elizabeth Leon

Dr. Elizabeth Leon established West Plano Pediatrics in 1995. She graduated from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, and completed her residency at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. She is board certified in pediatrics and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Leon has over 23 years of experience as a pediatrician in the community, and shares her knowledge through her blogs. Her blogs include topics such as financial awareness, memory making ideas, bike safety, and reasons not to start vaping.