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Oklahoma tornadoes: Tetanus is a concern after tornado

Tetanus is a spore that lives in the dirt. When it comes in contact with a cut or puncture wound, it becomes a bacterium in the body, said Dr. Robert Welliver, a University of Oklahoma Health Science Center infectious disease specialist.
BY LEIGHANNE MANWARREN Published: May 27, 2013

Health professionals are reminding people about the importance of tetanus vaccinations after tornadoes ripped through central Oklahoma last week.

“Tetanus is a spore that lives in dirt,” said Dr. Robert Welliver, a University of Oklahoma Health Science Center infectious disease specialist. “When it gets into the body it starts to germinate and make actual bacteria, and then it releases a toxin and that actually interferes with nerve transmission and actually sustains nerve transmission that when you make a contraction you can't let go of it. It can be life-threatening from that.”

With proper and adequate immunization, the risk of tetanus is extremely low, Welliver said.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department gave free tetanus vaccinations in the days after the tornado because many adults don't keep up with their tetanus shots, immunization nurse Dianne Clark said.

“(It's) because those are childhood shots and people don't think about it as an adult until they get into this kind of situation,” she said.

Clark said the best way to prevent infection is keeping cuts and scrapes clean and washing hands as often as possible.

“Mostly, it's just about keeping things clean,” she said. “Making sure you keep washing it, keeping it dry and clean.”

Clark encouraged people rummaging through debris to see a medical professional to get any cuts and scrapes properly treated, she said.

“I looked at a lot of scrapes and injuries while I was out,” Clark said. “If you get lines from it or red streaks from it, you start getting something pussy, things like that, you need to seek medical attention.”

People also need to see a doctor if they get a fever, she said.

A tetanus vaccination is good for 10 years unless a person receives a wound worse than a scrape, then another vaccine should be given if it has been more than five years, Clark said.


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