Tetanus In Africa

Tetanus in Africa can be quite a serious hazard for hunters and travellers who have not been vaccinated or have not kept up their 10 yearly boosters. Tetanus is prevalent all over Africa and the rest of the world..

Tetanus Facts

  • Tetanus is caused by a bacterium (clostridium tetani) which delivers a powerful toxin that damages the nervous system and muscles, causing prolonged spasms. Hence the alternative name 'lockjaw' - the jaw muscles are the first to contract. You may have noticed in some African countries that more than a few local people are missing their lower central incisor teeth. This is not due to decay but is a measure to ensure they can take some nutrition if their jaws lock due to tetanus.
  • The bacteria are most often found in the soil. Tetanus is usually contracted through minor wounds and burns, most frequently in warm climates, like Africa.

Tetanus Symptoms

  • The first sign of tetanus infection is often spasm of the jaw muscles which may interfere with swallowing.
  • The continuous and severe muscle contraction leads to death from respiratory failure and exhaustion.

Tetanus Shot Reaction

Tetanus shots commonly produce some side effects, so get your booster well before travelling.

  • Tetanus toxoid may cause irritation, redness, swelling, warmth, itching, bruising, pain and a hard lump at the injection site which lasts a few days up to a week.
  • Other side effects include low grade fever, muscle or joint aches, flushing or itching. If these symptoms continue inform your doctor.

Summary For African Travellers and Hunters

  • Make sure your tetanus vaccination is up-to-date before travelling especially if you are going to an area where it may be difficult to access health care services. Be aware of the wounds and injuries associated with tetanus.
  • Traveller's who have been fully immunized with tetanus toxoid in infancy need only a single booster every 10 years.
  • Tetanus is a particular hazard to those going on a hunting safari because you are liable to get small puncture wounds from thorns, using a knife or insect bites and then getting them dirty by leopard crawling, for example.
  • Attend to any wounds, especially deep wounds, promptly with antiseptic and a dressing.
  • Antibiotics cannot be relied upon to prevent tetanus.
  • Many wounds causing tetanus occur on the feet and legs which is another reason not to walk around bare-foot outside.
  • Those who suffer an injury may require a further dose of tetanus toxoid especially if it is longer than 5 years since the last booster.

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Page Updated: Mar 2024

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