Doctor busts tetanus myths

EVERYDAY accidents from a cut while gardening to tripping over playing sport can lead to a potentially fatal infection if you're not properly protected.

A rare diagnosis of tetanus on the North Coast last week that left a seven-year-old in a critical condition sparked medical experts to encourage all to vaccinate.

But having a single jab isn't enough, experts warn with booster injections vital to maintaining immunity from preventable diseases, like tetanus.

Tetanus is different to most vaccine-preventable diseases - it's not contagious, which means protection from this dangerous infection comes down to individual responsibility.

Staff specialist of Public Health at the National Centre of Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Frank Beard said that means which means you cannot rely on those who are vaccinated in the community for immunity.

Since the widespread introduction of the tetanus vaccine in Australia in 1945, incidence of the disease has reduced significantly with a mere four tetanus cases in Northern NSW in the past 17 years.

Of the four cases, three were in older people who Dr Beard said may not have been properly vaccinated as children or had a recent booster.

Dr Beard said the handful of cases in Northern NSW, and the nation, reflect most people are aware of the importance of tetanus vaccines and boosters.

"We have very good coverage rates. I think the majority of people are aware of the need to get boosters," Dr Beard said.

The Australian Immunisation Handbook recommends children are given primary does of the vaccine from 18 months of age through to school age.

People aged 50 and 65 are also recommended a tetanus booster if they haven't had a shot in the past decade or more.

Dr Beard said those who have had tetanus previously must ensure they continue to be immunised against the bacterial disease.

"Even if you catch tetanus you don't get a reliable immunity afterwards," he said.

A tetanus immuoglobulin is provided to patients with tetanus-prone wounds who are either unvaccinated or haven't had a shot in the past 10 years.

Dr Beard said the immunoglobulin is used in combination with the vaccine as "extra protection until the vaccination kicks in".

The antibody injection isn't "intended as full protection" Dr Beard said.

While vaccinations are are effective for the majority, Dr Beard said anyone with concerns about reactions to the tetanus vaccine should "thoroughly explore" those concerns with a GP.

"It's pretty rare to have a reaction of a severity enough not to have the vaccination dose in future," he said.

For more information about tetanus and its vaccines, visit the Federal Government's Immunise Australia Program website.


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