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All about tetanus shots

All about tetanus shots
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09 Jul 2018

Which travellers need tetanus vaccinations?

Are you protected from tetanus? This bacterial infection results in death in 10–20% of cases and people who survive can take weeks or months to recover. The best-known symptom of tetanus is lockjaw, where the facial muscles contract so that the patient cannot open their mouth. Tetanus’ other symptoms include:

  • pain
  • spasms
  • stiffness
  • seizures
  • fever
  • increased heart rate

These symptoms are caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which releases neurotoxins similar to strychnine. The bacteria infect the bloodstream after entering the body through a wound such as a cut, scrape, graze or a burn. There is an incubation period of four to 21 days. You can read more about the effects of tetanus with The Government of Canada.

If you suspect a case of tetanus, either in yourself or someone you are caring for, get medical attention. Tetanus is an emergency.

How to avoid tetanus

The tetanus bacteria is found in the soil and in manure and it contaminates many surfaces, particularly in warm, damp climates. It is difficult to completely avoid exposure.

Most Canadians are protected from tetanus under the normal vaccination schedule. The vaccine Revaxis protects against polio, diphtheria and tetanus and is given during the routine childhood vaccination program. A tetanus booster is given every ten years if required. You can catch tetanus more than once, so if you are at risk of exposure, make sure your boosters are up to date.

 If you have never been vaccinated against tetanus, a catch-up schedule of three shots a month apart will give protection.

Do I need a tetanus booster for my trip abroad?

If you know you have not had a tetanus booster in the last decade your travel health nurse may recommend this shot when you come for your travel jabs in our Calgary office, particularly if you:

  • are going to a remote area
  • have a longer trip planned
How to I avoid exposure to tetanus while travelling?

The tetanus bacteria enters the body through a wound, so you should take steps to avoid accidents, of course. If you are unlucky enough to get injured, make sure you get medical care for any injury that:

  • is the result of a bite (human or animal)
  • has a foreign body in (for example, glass or dirt)
  • is larger than 5cm across
  • has a jagged edge

When you are travelling in a warm damp climate, such as the tropics, wounds need vigilance because they become infected very easily. Carry basic medical supplies with you so that you can treat and care for wounds.

There are some activities that will increase your risk of exposure to the tetanus bacteria and you should think carefully before engaging in them. These include:

  • intravenous drug use
  • cosmetic procedures that break the skin such as piercing and tattooing
Where can I get travel vaccinations in Calgary?

When you have a trip planned you should see your travel health specialist at least six weeks before you go. This is because some vaccines that may be recommended need to be given well in advance. If you need an appointment at a travel clinic in Canada, turn to Canadian Travel Clinics. It is quick and easy to book online.