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3a.9 What is tetanus, and what are the risks of the disease?




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This article is from the Childhood Vaccinations FAQ, by Lynn Gazis-Sax lynng@alsirat.com with numerous contributions by others.

3a.9 What is tetanus, and what are the risks of the disease?

Tetanus is very dangerous. Even with antibiotics, mortality can be 40%
or higher (Pantell, Fries, and Vickery, Harrison). Tetanus bacteria
and its spores are everywhere. Because tetanus is so ubiquitous, the
only way to counter it is widespread vaccination.


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From J Thompson (jet14@columbia.edu):

The tetanus vaccine is actually against the tetanus toxin (a protein
called tetanospasmin), rather than the bacterium alone. The bacterium
doesn't really do much of significance, but the toxin it secretes can cause
muscular spasms. Thus, antibiotic therapy is rather pointless in preventing
the spasms, but it is given anyway. The administration of antitoxin (passive
immunity) is helpful. (see Harrison's, 13th ed., p. 635)
The vaccine consists of what is called "tetanus toxoid," which is simply
a purified version of the toxin, which has been treated to render it
ineffective as a toxin (but still immunogenic).
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