So if you’re stepped on a rusty nail and it has broken your skin, what do you do? You may have heard that you need to get a shot to help you protect against it. But how recent does your injection need to have been? And what happens if you don’t get one in time?
What Is Tetanus?
Tetanus is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system and which can be fatal. Tetanus has the ability to enter the body through the smallest of pinpricks and that means that any cut can potentially lead to the disease. It’s for this reason that tetanus is one of the recommended immunizations for children and is required before starting school in the US. The first time you receive this vaccination, you will receive five shots spread out over several months and this will begin at the age of 2 up to 5.
From then on, you’ll need a booster once every ten years.
While we associate tetanus with rusty nails and dog bites, this is far from the only place you can pick up the bacteria (called ‘clostridium tetani’). Rather, tetanus can also come from a range of other materials and it’s not actually rust itself that attracts the bacteria so much as the rough surface that allows the endospores to hide and stay in place.
What If You Step on a Nail?
Stepping on a nail doesn’t necessarily mean you’re definitely going to get tetanus. Just like any other infection or disease caused by bacteria, it will only be a problem if that bacteria is present on the implement that broke your skin in the first place. But seeing as there’s no way of knowing whether this is the case or not, it’s always better to be on the safe side.
Thus, if you have not had a tetanus injection in the last ten years, then you should seek medical attention immediately. Rinse the wound with tap water but do not cleanse with soap or apply antiseptic to the wound. Your doctor might also give you a shot of tetanus immune globulin which will act quickly to prevent the infection. This has a small window in which it can work, so it is very important to seek attention quickly.
You should also look out for the early signs of a tetanus infection. The best known first symptom is ‘lockjaw’, which causes stiffness of the neck, difficulty with swallowing, rigidity in the abdominal muscles, spasms and fever. These can occur anywhere from three days to three weeks following the infection.
The best protection? Stay up to date with your shots!