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Three Cases of Tetanus in Michigan: MDCH Urges Adults to Get Tdap Vaccine

Contact: Kelly L. Niebel (517) 241-2112
Agency: Community Health, Department of

July 28, 2011

Three recent cases of tetanus infection have prompted the Michigan Department of Community Health to remind adults that immunizations aren't just for kids.

Tetanus, also known as "lockjaw," is an infection caused by bacteria. Tetanus bacteria is commonly found in soil and can enter the body through wounds contaminated with dirt, feces, soil, or saliva. Tetanus infection can cause a person's neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. It can also cause breathing problems, severe muscle spasms, and seizures. Tetanus is a serious disease from which it can take months to recover. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

"It is important for teenagers and adults of all ages to get vaccinated against tetanus," said Dr. Dean Sienko, Interim Chief Medical Executive, MDCH. "The best treatment for this disease is prevention through immunization."

MDCH urges teenagers and adults to get vaccinated with Tdap vaccine, which protects not only against tetanus, but also diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).

Because immunity to tetanus decreases over time, most adults need to get a booster shot every 10 years to stay protected. Adults who haven't received Tdap vaccine should receive Tdap instead of their next regular tetanus (Td) booster. Adults who have contact with infants should get Tdap vaccine as soon as possible because being vaccinated against whooping cough will prevent them from spreading the disease to vulnerable infants. It's a good idea for adults to talk to their doctor about what vaccines they might need.

"Vaccination is a lifelong process," Sienko said. "It's important that adults of all ages get vaccinated against serious diseases, such as flu, tetanus, and whooping cough."

Many newer vaccines are recommended for adults, including vaccines to protect against shingles, pneumococcal disease, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Other vaccines adults may need include measles, mumps, and rubella; varicella; hepatitis A and B; and meningococcal vaccines. Seasonal flu vaccine is now recommended for everyone, every year. The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.

Adults should talk to their health care provider about the vaccines they need to be healthy. For information about vaccines adults need, visit: www.adultvaccination.org.