State Health Department: Tetanus Shot is a Key Safeguard During Post-Hurricane Recovery Work

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 8, 2011) – With the potential for people to suffer cuts or deep wounds during cleanup and repair activities in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the State Department of Health (DOH) today issued advice on guarding against tetanus bacteria infection.

Emergency responders, volunteers and residents over 18 years of age working on repair, construction and cleanup projects are advised to ensure they have been immunized for tetanus within the last 10 years and to receive a tetanus booster if they have not. If a person is unsure about the date of their last tetanus shot, they should receive the booster as well.

People should contact their primary health care provider for booster shots. If their primary care provider is not operating or they cannot get to their primary care provider, they should contact their local health departments.

Tetanus, which can be fatal if left untreated, is an infection caused by bacteria that is present in dust, soil or manure, and enters the body through puncture wounds or cuts. After entering the body, the bacteria can produce toxins that can cause painful muscle contractions in the neck and abdomen, which are often characterized as "lockjaw", and can impair breathing. All wounds and cuts should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. Medical attention should be sought for puncture wounds and lacerations.

As a result of widespread immunization, tetanus is a rare disease in the U.S., and no cases of tetanus have been reported in New York since the hurricane.

Under State law, all children who attend day care in New York State, as well as those entering grades K-12 for the first time must receive a series of immunizations for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. A booster vaccine (Tdap) is also required for children born after January 1, 1994, who will be enrolled in grades 6-10.

The vaccine may be effective after a person suffers a wound, but in some cases, tetanus immune globulin may be required. A tetanus booster in the form of a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis) vaccination is recommended and will provide protection against two additional diseases. A Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster can also be used.

Additional information on tetanus is available on the DOH web page at: