Protecting against and treating tetanus

Spring cleanup – a big event for the population of Thompson. On that day, all of us try hard to discard the redundant things that we collect throughout the year. We yearn for this day and time. Everybody makes the home tidy and pitches out the things that we don’t use. It is certainly a positive move and it should always happen, it is a kind of cleansing our homes where we dwell. I do appreciate the City of Thompson for the help that they provide to us to take all the items that are not being used or that are damaged. So far everything is good, but one thing I would have to mention here is we need to pay attention to our safety. When we discard the old doors, windows, furniture, and other items, they almost always contain nails. Sometimes, the nails are rusted or dirty which is a risk factor for a disease named tetanus. Not only nails, the discarded items often have sharp metal objects or even some hard plastics that may cut our hands or legs. I observed that many of us have so much debris made of big wood frames full of nails or sometimes our discarded bathroom sinks with the broken tubing systems, it makes me worry for our safety. So, today, I want to discuss how we can prevent tetanus. Before further do, we should know what is tetanus, how it occurs and what it can cause, and finally how we can prevent tetanus. 

Tetanus is a disease of the nervous system which is characterized by severe muscle spasms. The spasm results from a toxin in our body that is produced when we are infected with an organism named Clostridium tetani, found in the soil. 

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There is a medical terminology – trismus – which means lockjaw or intense spasm of the muscles which we use for chewing. Not only the chewing muscle, but tetanus also cause severe spasms in other parts of the body – it may cause a stiff neck, then due to spasms of the spinal muscles in our back, it causes the body to bend like a bow, the muscles of our tummy get stiff like a board and also due to contraction our respiratory muscles, it causes severe apnea, meaning no breathing at all, and it may cause difficulty swallowing. When these symptoms start to happen, it causes a severe condition in patients. Most of the time they need sedation by an anesthesiologist and respiratory support by a ventilator. On some occasions, patients who are not in good condition may die due to this illness. 

Now the question comes what we should do to prevent tetanus. Before the 1940s there was no vaccine for this, which caused a lot of mortality but currently, a vaccine for tetanus is available globally. First, during our childhood, the public health authority or the medical doctors provide tetanus vaccine. After childhood, when we enter adulthood, the doctors suggest that all of us should take the tetanus vaccine every 10 years. Tetanus vaccine comes with diphtheria, polio vaccine as well (Tdap vaccine). We should never forget to have the TdaP vaccine every 10 years. During pregnancy, doctors suggest new moms to take tetanus shot before the birth of the babies. The spore of tetanus which causes the disease is found in soil and it is not possible to take away the spores from the soil rather we should take care of ourselves by vaccinating. 

All of us like to clean up our backyard, our basement our houses in the springtime, but we should never neglect ourselves. We should never think that “it will be all right if there is a little cut here and there.” The best solution for cuts in our body during the cleanup is to go to see a medical doctor as soon as we get any kind of wound or cut. By any means if our body skin breaks up, the first thing we should do is to get rid of the debris, then clean up the wound, then take away the dead tissue and suture the area, if needed, and finally vaccinate against tetanus. It is better to have this process as soon as we get any kind of injury. If we cannot go to a doctor because it is the weekend, then we should go to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.

All of us like to be clean, ourselves and our surroundings, which is a very good thing. But if we pay a little attention to ourselves, then we should wear thick hand gloves that are sold in our grocery stores. The hand gloves for springtime are not expensive at all. I saw some people like to do cleanup projects or gardening with bare hands, but I would not recommend doing that. As during gardening, if there is a small cut in our hands we may not feel right away, the spores of tetanus may enter momentarily which may end up badly. 

Last but not least, let all of us clean our homes, basements, backyards wearing hand gloves. There is another benefit of wearing hand gloves is that the soil would not enter our nailbeds, as the spores can enter our body system through broken skin under our nailbeds. As I always say, if there is a problem, there should be a solution. Let’s not make our life difficult, pay a small amount of money to buy hand gloves and enjoy the spring season to the fullest. (The medical information was extracted from uptodate.com.)

Since completing a master’s degree in epidemiology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Foyez Haque worked in northern and southern Ontario as an epidemiologist for more than a decade. During his tenure with several health units in Canada, he was involved in numerous public health research activities including publications in peer-reviewed journals. Currently, he is employed with the Northern Health Region as a planning and decision support analyst.

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