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Digging in the dirt: Is your tetanus booster up to date?


Protect yourself from tetanus: get a booster and wear gloves!
Protect yourself from tetanus: get a booster and wear gloves!

Planning on getting your hands dirty in the garden this summer, or tackling that long overdue reno project? You might want to see if your tetanus booster is up to date.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a condition caused by a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, a cousin of the bacteria that cause gangrene and botulism.

The bacteria that cause tetanus are usually found in dirt, soil, dust, and animal feces. Tetanus bacteria typically enter the body through a puncture wound, cut, or scrape.

Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases because it does not spread from person to person.

The ImmunizeBC web site provides these facts about tetanus:

  • Tetanus, also known as “lockjaw,” is caused by bacteria usually found in dirt, soil, and dust.
  • When the bacteria enter the skin through a cut or scrape, they produce a poison that can cause painful tightening of muscles all over the body.
  • It is very serious if the breathing muscles are affected.
  • Up to 1 in 5 people who get tetanus may die.
  • This vaccine is given as a booster dose to adults who were immunized against tetanus and diphtheria when they were younger. A booster dose of this vaccine is recommended every 10 years.
  • Adults who have not been immunized or do not have a record of prior immunization should also get the vaccine.
  • This vaccine may also be given to people with serious cuts or deep wounds if their last tetanus vaccine was given more than 5 years ago.

How do I protect myself from tetanus?

Immunize Canada suggests you do the following to protect yourself:

  • Wear protective gloves, clothing, and footwear while gardening or renovating.
  • Be mindful when using tools that can cause injury or puncture the skin.
  • If injured, immediately clean wounds thoroughly with warm water and soap.

If you are more seriously injured, cover the wound and visit your doctor, local clinic, or emergency services right away.

I don’t know my vaccine status!

You are not alone! According to CANImmunize, which offers an online vaccine self-assessment service, only 3% of adult Canadians are up to date on their vaccines.

ImmunizeBC provides these tips to finding your vaccine records:

  • Check your home for your paper record of vaccination. Try looking through baby books or other saved documents from your childhood.
  • Check with your parents or other caregivers to see if they have a record of your vaccinations.
  • Check with your current and previous family doctors. Keep in mind that vaccination records are kept at doctors' offices for a limited time.
  • If you were vaccinated at your local health unit or in school in BC, check with your local public health unit.
  • If you were vaccinated at your local pharmacy, check with your pharmacist.
  • If you were vaccinated in a BC First Nations community, check with your community health nurse.
  • BC residents can access all their health records in a single place: Health Gateway. It is accessible by anyone 12 and older with the BC Services Card app. 

Tetanus resources

More tetanus resources are on these web sites:

Your local health unit or pharmacist can also answer any questions you may have about getting a tetanus booster.