Tetanus and the Rusty Nail Myth

By Bo Kelleher,

You’ve probably heard over and over again, that if you step on a rusty nail, that you’re going to get Tetanus. Rusty Nails=Tetanus. That’s what I was told my whole life. Almost every doctor is taught this unsubstantiated truism in medical school.

But I’m Blind

Last year, I suffered from what turned out to be a case of painless migraine that caused sudden blindness. I went to Kaiser Permanente immediately because I was worried that I might be having a stroke. When I got to the triage desk at Urgent Care, the nurse was completely unbothered by a desire to discover why I was blind. Her first priority was to remind her blind patient that he needed a TDaP. Why? Did I step on a nail? Does Tetanus cause blindness? I urged the nurse to set aside the vaccine bureaucracy for just a little while, so that I could be evaluated for what was making me blind. I was more concerned about dying from a stroke at the moment. Two other doctors finally figured out the migraine cause and sent me home, where the blindness resolved the same day.

DO YOU NEED A TETANUS VACCINE?

I was kind of disturbed by the triage nurse’s drug-pushing before a diagnosis was even attempted and it made me wonder just how serious and prevalent this Tetanus problem is. Maybe she thought, “blind people can’t see rusty nails, so we need to vaccinate them against tetanus!”

Just how deadly is tetanus anyway? I went on a search of vaccine safety and efficacy for TDaP and my sources (revealed by Google) were all official government sites and databases. None of them were health-conspiracy blogs or vitamin websites.

What I learned was that the average annual incidence of Tetanus between 2001 and 2008 was 0.10 per 1 million population and declining and 15.4% of the 197 deaths (30 people in an 8 year span, at an average overall death rate of 25 a year) were amongst people with diabetes and 15.3% (30 people) were among IV drug users. [1]

That report also showed that Tetanus was most prevalent among Hispanic men aged 35-60 (59.2% were male with a mean age of 49). So unless you’re a middle-aged, hispanic, diabetic sharing a dirty heroine needle with a junky, your risk of death from Tetanus is infinitesimal. And within all those deaths; for the 61 souls who sought medical treatment for an injury susceptible to tetanus, over 96% were not given the proper protocol of wound care by medical staff (Tetanus Immune Globulin prophylaxis) [4]. They died because of medical incompetence or neglect. 

In the SAME time period as the CDC Tetanus Surveillance, VAERS (the HHS Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) shows that 54,556 adverse events were reported following a Tetanus related vaccination [2]. It also shows that 795 people DIED in correlation to receiving Tetanus during that same period [3], meaning that you are over 400% more likely to die in association with a tetanus vaccine than you are of tetanus, and if you get tetanus and seek treatment but succumb to the toxoid), there’s a 96% historical probability that the doctors will have failed to treat your wound properly.

You’ll notice that the sources I’ve linked to are from official government data, not from a playboy bunny or some supplement peddling website. Thanks Google for pointing me to these authoritative sources.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6012a1.htm
[2] https://goo.gl/1GRQuD
[3] https://goo.gl/hldCH0
[4] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5517a1.htm

 

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2 thoughts on “Tetanus and the Rusty Nail Myth”

  1. Dear Edward,
    The triage nurse likely pushed for a dTPa shot off the bat because your file must have indicated you weren’t immunised. Not the most pressing issue at hand in someone who has visual loss I agree.

    However I worry that you have not provided the best interpretation of the CDC data referred to. There is much more to the CDC page and its contents that has been omitted.

    The tetanus toxoid immunisation was introduced in the armed services in the second world war. The overwhelming majority of US residents have been immunised since then, and this has profoundly decreased tetanus incidence. Therefore the overwhelmingly *immunised* population of Americans between 2001-2008, is not the best comparison in assessing your personal risk when you are making a case against immunisation; according to the triage nurse’s record, you might not have immunity.

    During WW1, the incidence of Tetanus was around 13.4 cases out of every 100,000 wounds.
    Those numbers might seem small to you, but aggregated this is devastating. Especially considering that even in the absence of death, morbidity can be significant (ongoing muscle weakness, hypoxic brain injuries, etc).
    You might still decide to not immunise, and that is your prerogative – but out of goodwill to your readers, an accurate presentation of the data should be included. You clearly don’t seem like someone who wants to inadvertently cause harm, & I wish you and your readers all the best.

    Best Wishes.
    Random Emergency Doctor who came across your website.

    Reply
  2. I have a student who entered 6th grade last year.
    The CDC wants them all vaccinated with boosters of TDap at that age.
    I refused to do it because its ridiculous.
    Just say No, to the doctor and the school Nurse. No No No
    I take my child to a Natropathic doctor because I’m so sick of Pediatricians trying to make me feel like a bad mom for not vaccinating him with all their Flu shots and Boosters.

    Reply

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