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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Time for a Shot?

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
This is a repost from last year; but still a timely reminder. When I first posted it, many of the comments were about the pros and cons regarding infant immunizations. This is an informational post aimed strictly at adults. Parents will want to do their own research, and make their own decisions, regarding the health care of their children. ~Sadge

When I was about eight years old, and visiting my Granny on her farm in Texas, I stepped on a rusty nail while exploring around back of some old sheds. I limped back up to the house, the inside of my shoe squishy with blood. Mom washed my foot with soap and hot water, checking to make sure no debris was left inside the deep puncture wound. Then Granny sat me down in the kitchen, my foot soaking in a pan filled with hot water and a heaping handful of Epsom Salts, "to draw out the toxin," she said.

"Lockjaw!" I heard from every adult relative that came in and saw me sitting there. I'd seen The Wizard of Oz. I imagined the rust from the nail creeping up through my body, freezing me up just like the Tin Woodman, until I couldn't even utter the word, "oilcan" (good thing I didn't know it would also mean painful muscle spasms throughout the entire body, plus elevated temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate, on-going for weeks). Mom assured me I'd be fine - I'd had my DT shots, before I started school just a couple of years earlier. I didn't know what a Deety was, I was just glad I had it.

Ten years later, when I was ready to go away to college, I first had to submit my immunization records. The university told me I needed a DT booster vaccination (which I now knew stood for Diphtheria/Tetanus) - the immunity lapses after 10 years. I've made sure to keep my immunity updated every decade since.

So why am I writing about this in a sustainable living blog? I now know rust doesn't cause Tetanus, but rusty cans and nails can often be found in areas harboring tetanus bacteria. The rough surface of a rusty object provides the perfect habitat for the tetanus bacteria to reside, and the sharp edges can make just the sort of break in your skin that provides the bacteria a route into your body. Tetanus bacteria spores are carried in the feces of animals, such as horses, cattle, chickens, dogs, cats, and guinea pigs. Anyone cleaning up after animals, making compost from manure, or using it in the garden, comes in contact with tetanus bacteria. Just getting your hands dirty while in your garden means you're probably carrying the spores on your skin. Tetanus bacteria thrives in hot, damp climates where the soil is rich in organic matter - exactly the type of environment organic gardeners strive to create.

Tetanus occurs when an open wound becomes contaminated with the bacteria. I know there are plenty of opportunities to cut, scratch, and puncture myself while working in my garden - splinters, insect bites, working around the cut ends of chicken wire, pruning roses and my particularly vicious blackberry brambles, to name only a few. Mom knew, even if you have a current tetanus vaccination, it's still necessary to immediately wash open wounds thoroughly with soap and water. Regarding Granny's Epsom Salts treatment - soaking in salt water really does draw toxins out of a wound - certainly not a substitute for a doctor's care in serious situations, but I do think it a natural remedy worth mentioning.

Vaccines can prevent tetanus, but the immunity needs to be updated every 10 years. Since it can take up to two weeks for the antibodies to form, if you need a booster shot try to get it before your gardening season starts. Tetanus is fatal in 10 to 20% of reported cases (death occurs mainly in adults over 60, also the most likely to have let their immunity lapse), but even in less severe cases, with treatment, full recovery can take more than a year. Being sick and miserable, especially when it's easily preventable, makes no sense to me. I'd rather be safe than sorry, and stay healthy out there in my garden.


Kathryn said...

They say that immunity lasts for 10 years, but i can tell you first hand that if it has been more than 5 & you have a serious cut or wound, they will want you to update.

Chookie said...

Same in Australia. Pop over to my blog about 2 weeks back for a gruesome pictures of a gardening injury (category mishaps). Yes, the hospital gave me a tetanus injection (I knew it was more than 5 years since my last one) and antibiotics as well, in case of other bacterial infection at the wound site.

Shilo~Michelle said...

Good post. Sensible, logical and practical. I had never thought about the breeding ground for tetanus and related that to being in the garden! I worry about all the children being up to date with such things and forget about myself.
Thank you for sharing!

Gremlina said...

as we start our 'farm' I have seriously wondered about this for my kids. They are unvaxed. The only problem is we are not allowed to choose one vax & not get them all. It's very tricky...but, I think i'm going to look into it more. thanks!

Katie said...

Great post, thanks!

Hybrid said...

Really informative post. Thanks for the share.

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Sense of Home said...

A good reminder, I haven't had a DT shot for years.

Annodear said...

I'm probably due.... Thanks for the reminder. It's actually perfect timing, being a "decade" year this year.... would be easier to remember to get one *next* X10 year :-)

Anonymous said...

Got mine last year after reading your similar post then. My son had to get his vaccs for middle school and the county ran a free clinic. I asked if I could get a DT, too and they said, Sure!
Thanks for the info, its much appreciated.