Last week, the Vancouver Sun reported that there were four cases of tetanus in British Columbia in 2007, three of which were fatal. According to the article, B.C. had not seen a case a tetanus since 2001, when there was a total of five cases. As a result, public health officials are urging adults to make sure their 10-year tetanus vaccination booster is up to date.
Tetanus is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria, which produces a nerve toxin. Although most of us associate tetanus with rusty nails, C. tetani spores are commonly found in soil, where they can live for years, and infect people through open skin wounds, including burns and punctures. (For more information on tetanus, see this fact sheet from The Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion.) That means gardeners are at risk for infection, especially if they haven’t kept up with their immunization.
Already shrugging this warning off? Well, it turns out that this risk is far from remote. About 30 percent of Canadian adults have not received a tetanus shot in the last 10 years, according to a press release from the Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion, citing the results of a recent Leger Marketing study. So the Coalition is urging people to check their immunization records and, if necessary, to get to their doctor’s office for a booster before digging around in the dirt this spring. Quoted in the release, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Chair of the Coalition, says, "The tetanus booster is safe, effective, and free for all Canadians; so there is really no reason why anyone should be unprotected.”
If you have difficulty keeping track of your vaccinations, try downloading an Adult Immunization Pamphlet or ordering one from the Coalition’s web site.