With Holy Week beginning this Palm Sunday, Apr. 17, the Philippines Department of Health on Friday warned individuals who partake in some self-punishing acts of penitence of the health dangers not only related to the brutal heat, but of the deadly bacterial infection, tetanus.
Some of the rites such as self-flagellation and crucifixion (see video and slideshow) carry real risks of tetanus from the dirty environment and instruments used in these rituals.
According to DOH-National Epidemiology Center Director Dr. Eric Tayag, if you expect to participate in these extreme acts of penitence you should get the tetanus vaccine a few weeks prior to the act, In addition, Tayag notes that wounds should be treated properly and immediately to avoid further infections and complications.
Tetanus is caused by a very potent toxin produced by the anaerobic bacterium, Clostridium tetani. The spores of this organism are very resistant to environmental factors and are found widely distributed in soil and in the intestines and feces of horses, sheep, cattle, dogs, cats, rats, guinea pigs, and chickens. Manure-treated soil may contain large numbers of spores. In agricultural areas, a significant number of human adults may harbor the organism.
These spores are usually introduced into the body through a puncture wound contaminated with soil, street dust, animal bites or animal or human feces, through lacerations, burns or trivial unnoticed wounds or by injecting contaminated drugs. So many times you hear about concern over stepping on a rusty nail; however the rust has nothing to do with tetanus. At this point the spores germinate into the bacteria which multiply and produce toxin.
Depending on the extent of the wound, the incubation of tetanus is around 10-14 days.
Some of the common symptoms of tetanus are lockjaw, followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty in swallowing, and rigidity of abdominal muscles. Other symptoms include elevated temperature, sweating, elevated blood pressure, and episodic rapid heart rate. Spasms may occur frequently and last for several minutes. Spasms continue for 3–4 weeks. The typical features of a tetanus spasm are the position of opisthotonos and the facial expressions known as “risus sardonicus”. The death rate for this disease ranges from 10-80% depending on age and quality of care.
There are really no laboratory findings that are characteristic of tetanus. The diagnosis is entirely clinical and does not depend upon bacteriologic confirmation.
This disease in not transmitted from person to person. Even if you had tetanus and recovered, this potent toxin produces no immunity.
Additional info on vaccinations:
Recommended Immunization Schedule ages 0-6
Recommended Immunization Schedule ages 7-18
Adult Immunization Schedule