What is Tetanus?

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



CDC recommends postponing tetanus vaccine until shortage ends



Dear Pam,

Is there really a nation-wide shortage of tetanus and diphtheria toxoids (Td)?

Yes, there is a nationwide shortage of tetanus and diphtheria toxoids (Td) in the United States. This has resulted due to the discontinuation in January 2001 of production by one of the nation’s two major manufacturers.

Aventis Pasteur is now the sole remaining supplier of Td in the United States and is expanding its manufacturing capability to meet the nation’s needs. However, Aventis projects that it will take approximately eleven months to accomplish this.

When news of the shortage broke , the first question on many people’s mind was: “just what is tetanus?”.

Tetanus (also known as lockjaw), is caused by the toxin of the bacterium Clostridium. These bacteria are commonly found in soil and animal feces. Barnyards and fields fertilized with manure are often highly contaminated. The bacteria can remain alive for many years in the form of spores. The microorganisms grow in dead or damaged tissue that does not have an adequate blood supply. Infection my result from any wound that is contaminated by infected soil. The initial symptoms of tetanus include stiffness of the jaw, slight difficulty in swallowing, restlessness and stillness of the arms, legs and neck.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends deferring all routine adult and adolescent tetanus booster vaccinations until 2002 or until the shortage has been resolved. The Postgraduate Institute for Medicine has recommended that practitioners adhere to this deferral in order to ensure enough vaccine for critical immunization needs. The use of Td for vaccination of those with wounds, planning foreign travel, who are pregnant or who have not completed the primary tetanus series should continue to follow recommendations from the CDC Advisory Committee on immunization practices.

So if you have stepped on a nail or cut yourself with a rusty piece of metal outside, you will need a Td booster if you have not had one in the past 10 years. Aventis Pasteur is shipping Td only to public health clinics and urgent care facilities such as (emergency rooms and burn units) so that adequate supplies are available to meet priority needs, as defined by the CDC.

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This article was originally published August 6, 2001 in The St. Tammany News.


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