I Stepped on a Nail...Should I Worry About Tetanus?

You recently stepped on a dirty nail lying around your backyard, but you’ve always dutifully received the recommended tetanus booster shots on time. Should you still be worried? Jill Manahan MD, of Queen City Physicians – Hyde Park, says "yes" – well, sort of.

“You should be seen by your doctor either way, because you could have the risk of contracting other types of infection,” she points out.

Tetanus: What is it?

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is an infection of the nervous system caused by spores of the bacteria C. tetani, which is found in soil, animal feces and animal teeth.

If these spores enter your body through an injury or wound, you run the risk of developing a tetanus infection. If you have been infected with tetanus, symptoms usually present themselves between seven and 21 days of contracting the bacteria, starting with mild spasms of the jaw.

Spasms can also affect your chest, neck, back and abdominal muscles. Eventually these twitches can become more severe, leading to breathing problems, fractures or muscle tears.

Bottom Line: Get Your Regular Tetanus Shot

Most tetanus cases in the United States occur in those who have not been vaccinated against the disease. “If you’ve had it within five years – or ten years – you’re good, technically, but most doctors will err on the side of caution and give you a booster anyway,” Dr. Manahan points out. “We’re not really sure how quickly immunity wanes.”

Tags: Miscellaneous, Wellness and Fitness

Last Updated: March 2, 2014