Gardening can kill - so get vaccinated
3 Vancouver Islanders died of tetanus last year
Cindy E. Harnett, Victoria Times Colonist
Published: Sunday, March 02, 2008
Gardening can kill you - so if you don't want to be pushing up daisies
in a way you didn't plan, get a tetanus shot every 10 years, said
chief medical health officer Richard Stanwick.
Three people who died of tetanus on Vancouver Island last year are
suspected to have picked up the bug from soil.
Tetanus, commonly known as lockjaw, is a serious infection caused by a
germ that lives in soil and manure. It thrives on damaged tissue,
making its way into the body through even minor cuts on the hands,
deep punctures caused by animal bites or anything dirty, such as a
The deaths stem from a worrisome trend: The fact that adults are not
getting regular immunization shots, Stanwick said.
"There's a lot of risk in the garden," Stanwick said. "People should
make sure they have appropriate gear. Part of that gear [apart from
gloves] is making sure you're properly immunized."
The victims were 50 years and older, Stanwick said. "They are all
people who haven't had an immunization in at least 10 years or
Every decade, an adult should be immunized against tetanus, diphtheria
and polio, Stanwick said. Another string of vaccines is also
recommended for adults in high-risk groups.
"The fact we are actually seeing these sorts of deaths from [tetanus]
- something that should never occur - just raises the alarm of how
important prevention is, whether it's good hand-washing and wound care
to getting your immunizations," he said.
Tetanus can cause prolonged contraction of skeletal muscles,
stiffness, spasms and death. It can be prevented by immunization or
treatment following exposure.
Public health officials are concerned that many adults tend to think
of immunizations - other than the well-publicized flu shots - as being
for children only.
"We talk about people getting the pneumococcal vaccine over age 65 but
really the commitment to immunization is a lifelong thing," Stanwick
A survey released in January by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in the United States confirmed that confusion abounds.
The immunization survey conducted last summer - with responses from
about 7,000 Americans - reported that the flu shot was the only
vaccine most could name. It showed only 3 to 18 per cent could name
the vaccines for other hazards, which include tetanus; diphtheria;
pneumococcal disease; hepatitis A; hepatits B; pertussis (whooping
cough); meningococcal disease; and shingles.
Public health officials are considering adding whooping cough back
into the regime for adults, Stanwick said, because there have been
occasional outbreaks of that illness.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, a random phone survey
conducted in 2002 among Canadians age 18 years and older found that
only 54 per cent of respondents had adequate coverage for tetanus.
This rate was lowest in those aged 60 and older.
© Victoria Times Colonist 2008
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