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Dig the dirt? It may be time for a tetanus booster

A woman wearing a green apron trims a plant with gardening shears.

The tetanus vaccine wears off over time. Are you due?

April 28, 2019—With spring finally here, a lot of us can't wait to get in the garden. But before you start tending yours, here's a question: Is your tetanus shot up-to-date?

Gardeners are particularly prone to tetanus, an often-fatal disease that affects the nervous system. That's because the bacteria that cause tetanus lurk in the soil and can enter the skin though even a tiny crack. So if you dig in the dirt, use sharp tools, or handle plants and weeds with sharp points, you have a heightened risk of tetanus.

Your best defense against tetanus is vaccination. But a tetanus shot's effectiveness wears off over time. To protect yourself, you need a tetanus booster every 10 years.

Act fast

If you do cut yourself while gardening—and haven't had a tetanus shot in the past decade—rinse the wound with tap water and call your doctor right away.

Besides a tetanus shot, your doctor may also give an injection of something called tetanus immune globulin, which helps prevent an infection. But there's just a small window of time for it to work, the American College of Emergency Physicians cautions. So don't put off getting medical care.

Know the signs

If you're a gardener, it's important to know the first signs of a tetanus infection and to get immediate medical care if you have them. They include:

  • Stiff neck.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Rigid abdominal muscles.
  • Spasms.
  • Sweating.
  • Fever.

Discover more do's and don'ts for staying safe while gardening.

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