GR5: Tetanus

mini-tmb-sep-2008-46-small I’ve been amazed at how much thought has gone into vaccinations for this trip. Especially since at first I hadn’t thought we’d need any at all – It’s only Southern France!

But there are a couple of things well worth considering: Tetanus and Tick-borne Encephalitis (which is the subject of the next posting).

Judy Armstrong mentions Hep A but my own GP‘s Practice Nurse said there was no particular risk and she therefore couldn’t justify giving it financially.

So; tetanus.

Everyone knows you should make sure that your booster vaccinations are “up to date” but how do you know if you need one? Well, obviously, ask your doctor. Don’t listen to some bloke on the internet!

But this is what I’ve been able to gather from the MASTA Travel Clinic Nurse, my own GP and The Greeen Book from the UK Department of Health:

If you are in the UK, more than five vaccinations in your lifetime and you’re considered to be covered.

If you plan to travel abroad, where there may be an increased risk of exposure to Tetanus or medical facilities may be harder to reach quickly (that includes walking hut to hut in the Alps), MASTA advise ensuring that you keep up the “every ten years” boosters (which they also say to get free from your GP so they’re not trying to rake in more cash!).

If you grew up in the UK, unless your parents opted-out of it, you should have received four vaccinations by the time you reached adulthood (three when very young and one booster pre-school). By simply having one booster in early adulthood you should be up to the magic figure of five in total.

A check of your medical records should establish how many you have had and when the last one was. That should make it simple to decide whether one is required for a trip.

However, just being up-to-date with your Tetanus vaccination doesn’t guarantee that you won’t need further preventative treatment if you have a deep wound, particularly one involving soil getting into it.

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So for me, the real question is; What kind of injury “in the field” would require me to walk out to medical aid and get a jab?

I don’t think that this is as hard as it might seem to answer. If I fell and put a gash in myself that I thought I could reasonably clean up, as long as I had the above mentioned level of vaccination I might well decide to walk on.

However, if the wound was very deep, especially a puncture (tetanus thrives without oxygen), or if there was soil ground into it I would probably be making a decision as to whether to get to proper medical aid based on the more immediate “mechanical” effects of the injury.

My current vaccination status probably wouldn’t be at the forefront of my mind!

Once I’d got myself to a doctor I could therefore consult them as to the necessity of any further jabs against anything that wound may have exposed me to. For example tetanus immunoglobulin. (Which is not what is in a normal booster vaccination but something that is given if you are thought likely to have been exposed to tetanus).

It’s impossible to make absolute rules around this, every situation is different. And it’s impossible to be sure you’re making the best decision taking all the factors into account (like, is it worth hiking out for two days and getting a bus to the hospital!).

To reduce the risk as far as possible, you’d have to attend a doctor for anything other than a paper-cut. So I think it’s best to arm yourself with as much information as possible, and the relevant vaccination level, before you go.

I also think it’s worth carrying a record of when you were last vaccinated and for what. Just a tiny piece of paper with the names and dates of your vaccinations could be very helpful for a doctor treating you.

I was lucky enough to have LB with me in France a couple of years ago when an errant ski gave me a new duelling scar. She speaks enough French to let them know I was up to date with my Tetanus jabs. Without any paperwork I may have had an unnecessary and possibly expensive jab!

2 Replies to “GR5: Tetanus”

  1. Reading this and the post above gives one a lot to think about. When I went to South America a few years ago I of course looked into vaccinations. But I wouldn’t have thought to get vaccinations for hiking in France. I figure with a minor injury I would still carry on and with a major injury I would need medical attention anyway. But your posts make me realize that inquiring about vaccinations before traveling anywhere is a prudent thing to do.
    Thanks for the wake up call!

  2. It really was a very odd realisation that we needed any extra jabs for this!

    Very glad you found it useful. And very glad you found my blog (via Chris’s I’d imagine) and that through that I’ve found yours… :)

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