Tetanus protection requires booster shots every 10 years, starting in adolescence

As the final weeks of summer dwindle away, parents are scurrying to provide their kids with all the books, supplies and sports equipment needed to meet this year's upcoming academic and athletic challenges.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) also encourages parents to make sure their children are up-to-date on their combined tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine, for which the first booster is recommended as early as age 11.

"Tetanus is an extremely common bacteria found in dirt and soil, so even a minor wound during sports, physical education, or recess could lead to a tetanus infection," says NASN President Janis Hootman, PhD, RN, BSN, MST. "Immunity against these two diseases does not last forever, but protection is simple with a combined booster, starting in children around age 11."

NASN urges adolescents, and the entire family, to take time during this back-to-school season to make sure they are up-to-date with the Td booster. While an estimated 94% of children under six years of age are currently protected against tetanus and diphtheria, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that by age 20, 53% of Americans lack protection. According to NASN, this is because adolescent immunizations are not required for school entry in all parts of the US, and many parents do not realize that some of their children's vaccines do not last forever.

"Tetanus can be a painful disease requiring months of treatment and recovery, including hospitalization and rehabilitation. It can even be fatal. No one should ever suffer from this disease today when it can be so easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine," says Dr. Hootman. "The back-to- school period is the perfect opportunity to catch up on immunizations." NASN encourages parents to contact their child's school nurse or family physician to see what vaccines adolescents need to stay safe throughout the school year and beyond.

Tetanus and Diphtheria: Importance of Boosters Tetanus is caused by an infection from bacteria that are commonly found in soil, dust, insects and animals. Even minor cuts and scrapes carry a risk for tetanus infection. While it is not a contagious disease, it is debilitating, painful and potentially life-threatening. Symptoms can appear anytime from three days to three weeks after exposure, but diagnosis is often delayed, allowing the infection to worsen since tetanus occurs less frequently today than in past decades. Typical symptoms include fatigue, irritability, headache, neck stiffness, muscle rigidity and difficulty swallowing. Almost all reported cases of tetanus occur in persons who have either never been vaccinated, or who completed a primary series but have not had a booster vaccine in the past 10 years. Fortunately, a combined shot protects against tetanus and diphtheria, another infectious disease, for 10-year intervals.

Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection, which is contracted from inhaling the bacteria from an infected person. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, difficulty swallowing and swelling in the upper regions of the body. According to NASN, a decrease in immunization rates could result in a dangerous re-emergence of the disease. One example where diphtheria returned due to lack of adult immunity was in Russia between 1990-95. Because so many people were unprotected, this diphtheria outbreak led to more than 157,000 cases and 5,000 preventable deaths.

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