Do you know your risk of tetanus as a gardener?

leaveswave(.)June 21, 2004


Many gardeners are unaware that they face an increased risk for tetanus, a potentially fatal disease caused by bacteria found in dirt, potting soil and manure. According to the 2004 National Gardening Survey, 80 percent of gardeners say that they get cuts and scrapes while working around the yard, garden or home -- which is how tetanus enters the bloodstream.

The survey also revealed a general lack of protection among gardeners, with more than 40 percent reporting that they are not vaccinated against tetanus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a combined booster vaccine known as "Td" once every 10 years to protect against tetanus and diptheria, another infectious disease.

"Every time you work in the dirt you expose yourself to tetanus -- so it is important to get your Td booster shot before you dig in," urges National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) Medical Director Susan Rehm, MD. "Call your doctor today to see if you are due for your 10-year Td vaccine."

According to Dr. Rehm, tetanus is a very painful disease, and can prove challenging to diagnose. In one recent case, a gardener apparently developed a tetanus infection from a bite from a fire ant -- but it took more than two weeks after symptoms began before this woman learned she had tetanus.

During this time, and for several weeks more, this woman was hospitalized, and required a tube to help her breath. Among her symptoms, she suffered from severe muscle spasms in her mouth and throat, commonly known as "lockjaw." This patient was fortunate to survive her bout with tetanus -- as many as 20 percent of tetanus cases result in death. The disease is especially deadly in unimmunized persons or those who have not stayed up-to-date on their Td booster.

To learn more about tetanus and diptheria, or to take a quiz to assess your tetanus risk, visit the NFID's web site:

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leftwood(z4a MN)

When I changed doctors, and he found that I gardened extensively, that was the first thing that came out of his mouth:
When was the last time you had a tetanus booster shot?

I got one that day.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2004 at 7:30PM
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Deb907(3 MN)

OH my YES, A WONDERFUL reminder to people!!! I was just THINKING of going to get a booster lately- I have horses, too, and am always in the muck. I was trying to think of the last time I had a tetanus shot. Since I can't remember- I thought it was a good thing to go get one.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2004 at 9:21PM
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MooseNuggette(z5a - AK)

I just got my tetanus shot because I'd recently read about an article about it. I was going to post my own thread on another forum but did a search first to see what was already out there. Your posting is perfect so I'll just be posting a link to this thread on the Soil, Compost and Mulch forum. Thanks for including the interesting article!


    Bookmark   June 23, 2004 at 7:33PM
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erinmn(4 MN)

I got mine too last year and it's a good thing since I'm completely chewed up by this time each year. The weeds fight back. But I'd not schedule any extensive gardening for a couple of days after, the shots do hurt! Maybe it's my massive muscling that really obstructed the needle...

    Bookmark   June 25, 2004 at 12:35PM
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You bet I am. I get one every five years. There's not a year, as a gardener, that I don't experience a dirty break in the skin.
jan, retired nuse

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 6:23PM
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Yay! Good to see so many people taking good care of themselves.

Jan, I thought they were good for 10 years, are you just being on the safe side, or do you know something as a former nurse?

erin, there's a wide range of variability in the pain experienced, both between people, and with the same person in dif. years. I've heard it can also have something to do with the skill of the shooter.

I used to use a memory trick to remember my last one. Just associate something colorful and odd with the final digit. Now I have a word doc with pertinant medical facts about my parents & grandparents and a calendar where I note my own history. It's gotten more and more useful as I get older, and is especially helpful when I need to change drs or see someone new.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 7:25AM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

As I understand it (and I am not a Dr.), the shots are good for 10 years, unless you are at a hi-risk of incurring contact, or are injured within the last 5 years, then as frequent as every 5 years is wise.
That is what the Doc's at work say...
I have yet to have a tetnus injection that doesn't "burn" for a while. Getting it in a muscle you don't use too much helps, like in your left arm if you are rightie helps, also moving the muscle alot right after the injection helps too.
I didn't realise that diggin in the dirt was the same as steppin on nails and the like....
Thanks for the heads up!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 2:02PM
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ConsiderThis(New Mexico)

I wish I'd found your page before I did one of my own!
At first I thought you'd copied mine : (

But no. I can see that's not the case.

Mine came about because I got EXTREMELY PAINFUL muscle contractions in my back about 6 weeks after I went from gardening to sewing and accidentally ran my toe into a darning needle.

I have a bit of brain damage and it's a little hard to be clear sometimes.
I wrote one message that didn't work,and disappeared...

My tetanus page is:

Here is a link that might be useful: Fingernails

    Bookmark   December 9, 2004 at 7:11PM
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ConsiderThis(New Mexico)

I just found a quite remarkable site by, I think, someone in England.

She has some interesting statistics that indicate vaccinations are not the end all in protection, and might in fact pose some risks.

One thing that she reports, that I experienced, is the efficacious effect of vitamin C. I can't be sure, but I think it has had a lot to do with my recovery. I've taken 12 500 mg Vitamin C with a mug of tea three times a day, based on recalling that ages ago I read that Vitamin C works against colds because it changes the ph in the body to such an extent that it makes the body inhospitable to the virus.

The site's address for tetanus is:
Your fingernails reflect your health --
Learn what warning signs to look for --
Karen Kline

Here is a link that might be useful: Health-Boundaries-Bite

    Bookmark   December 10, 2004 at 11:43PM
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lynnsherbs(4 Minnesota)

REmember too, that if you have horses or are using horse manure as fertilizer, you are also at increased risk. Composted manure, may or may not be okay depending on hot the pile gets, but horses are carriers (at least that's what I was told in vet tech class many years ago) and shed the bacteria.

Get your shots!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2004 at 2:43PM
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Good information. Thanks. We'll get shots next time we go in.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 2:55PM
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Bumping in response to recent Horse Manure post.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 7:01PM
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Going to go get mine today after reading this post!
Thanks for the heads up, and for the "bump"!


    Bookmark   April 15, 2005 at 11:00AM
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And, from a Strib Fixit column in 2006:

Q: My daughter thinks I need a tetanus shot because I spend a lot of time gardening. I can't remember the last time I had one. But I'm not likely to step on a rusty nail in my yard. Is it really necessary to have a tetanus shot to garden?

A: Yes. It's actually a myth that tetanus comes from stepping on rusty nails. Tetanus is a bacterium found in soil and manure. Because gardeners often scrape or scratch themselves while working, the bacteria can easily enter. They don't need a puncture wound.

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is an acute infectious disease of the nervous system characterized by spasms and painful convulsions. The toxin secreted by tetanus bacteria is extremely potent. The disease is hard to diagnose; symptoms can appear three days to three weeks after exposure. And it can be deadly. About 20 percent of cases are fatal.

The tetanus vaccine can prevent infection. Check with your doctor. You need booster shots every 10 years to be protected.

For more information, go to and search for "tetanus."

    Bookmark   August 2, 2007 at 11:02AM
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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

Got my last booster back in May after 8 years. Normally, the doctor would recommend 10 (unless some specific injury made you more at risk after 7=8 years) but they've got a 'new' tetanus vaccine. Includes diptheria if I remember right. At any rate, it made me think of a child's DPT vaccine!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2007 at 5:59PM
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