NSW health authorities have issued an urgent warning after an older woman in her 80s died from tetanus, the first such case in NSW in 30 years. Two other cases have been reported in the state this year. Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is caused by a bacteria found in soil, which can enter wounds and produce a toxin that attacks the nervous system. The Guardian reports that NSW Health advises people to ensure they are up to date with tetanus vaccinations, as it is the best protection against the disease. This year, all three cases in NSW involved a minor wound contaminated by garden soil.
In the following sections of this blog article, We will learn more about what tetanus is, the importance of vaccination, and effective prevention methods to stay safe and healthy.
What is Tetanus?
To fully understand the recent cases of tetanus fatality in NSW and its impact on public health, it is important first to learn what tetanus is and how it is caused.
Tetanus is a rare bacterial illness of the nervous system that can kill if it gets bad enough. Clostridium tetani bacteria, which can be found in dirt, dust, and animal poop, are to blame. Through a cut or wound, the germs can get into the body and become toxins that attack the nervous system. Tetanus can cause the following:
- severe muscle stiffness and spasms
- difficulty swallowing
If untreated, it can result in respiratory failure and death. While tetanus is as rare as hen’s teeth in developed countries like Australia, it is still a severe threat to public health. Understanding its causes and symptoms is crucial for effective prevention and treatment.
The Dirty Truth About Tetanus Transmission
Tetanus is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person. The bacteria can thrive in environments with little oxygen, so deep wounds and not exposed to air are at a higher risk of becoming infected. Keep in mind that tetanus cannot be contracted through contact with an infected person, and simply being near someone with tetanus does not put you at risk. Recognising the modes of transmission of tetanus can help individuals take necessary precautions to protect themselves from this severe disease.
Factors That Increase Your Chances of Tetanus
Risk factors increase the likelihood of contracting tetanus. These include:
Lack of vaccination
Individuals who have not been vaccinated against tetanus or are not up-to-date with their vaccinations.
Exposure to contaminated objects
People who work in environments with a high risk of exposure to contaminated objects, such as farmers or construction workers, are more likely to contract tetanus.
Poor wound care
Not cleaning and appropriately dressing wounds can increase the risk of tetanus bacteria entering the body.
Tetanus is more common in older adults due to decreased immunity and potentially more exposure to contaminated objects.
Tetanus bacteria can thrive in the anaerobic environment created by contaminated needles or other drug paraphernalia. In addition, substance abuse can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to tetanus infection.
NSW Health Authorities Issue a Warning
NSW Health has urged people to ensure they are up-to-date with their tetanus vaccinations, particularly older adults who may not have had a booster shot in several years. The warning also emphasises the importance of proper wound care, such as cleaning and dressing wounds promptly and seeking medical attention if a wound appears infected or is not healing correctly. Health authorities have emphasised that even minor wounds can be dangerous if contaminated with tetanus bacteria.
Importance of heeding the warning
Tetanus is a serious disease that can cause severe and potentially fatal symptoms, making it essential to heed the warning issued by NSW Health authorities. Vaccination is the best protection against tetanus; getting a booster shot if you are due for one can provide long-lasting immunity against the disease. Proper wound care is also crucial in preventing tetanus infection. Through these, individuals can protect themselves and help prevent the spread of tetanus in the community.
Wound Care to Prevent Tetanus Infection
Here are the steps in wound care for tetanus:
- Clean the wound: Rinse the wound thoroughly with clean water or saline solution to get rid of any dirt, debris, or bacteria that may be present.
- Stop the bleeding: Apply gentle pressure to the wound to stop any bleeding. If bleeding does not stop after several minutes, seek medical attention.
- Apply an antiseptic: Apply a topical antiseptic such as hydrogen peroxide or iodine to the wound to prevent infection.
- Cover the wound: Cover the wound with a sterile bandage or dressing to keep it clean and dry.
- Monitor for signs of infection: Watch for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, pain, and fever.
By following these steps, individuals can reduce their risk of developing tetanus and other infections from contaminated wounds. It is also essential to seek medical attention if a wound appears infected or is not healing properly.
Are Tetanus Symptoms an Emergency?
The signs and symptoms of tetanus can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. Muscle stiffness and spasms can make it difficult to breathe and swallow, which may require CPR. If you or someone you know experiences tetanus symptoms, call 000 or go to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately. Early treatment with antitoxin and antibiotics can help prevent complications and improve outcomes.
CPR First Aid RTO NO. 21903 offers training in proper CPR and first aid techniques to help individuals respond to medical emergencies like tetanus.