DENVER -- As the final weeks of summer dwindle away,
parents are scurrying to provide their kids with all the books, supplies and sports equipment needed to meet this year's upcoming academic and athletic challenges. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) also encourages
parents to make sure their children are up-to-date on their combined tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine, for which the first booster is recommended as early as age 11.
"Tetanus is an extremely common bacteria found in dirt and soil, so even a minor wound during sports, physical education, or recess could lead to a tetanus infection," says NASN president Janis Hootman, PhD, RN, BSN, MST. "Immunity against these two diseases does not last forever, but protection is
simple with a combined booster, starting in children around age 11."
NASN urges adolescents, and the entire family, to take time during this
back-to-school season to make sure they are up-to-date with the Td booster.
While an estimated 94 percent of children under six years of age are currently
protected against tetanus and diphtheria, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) reports that by age 20, 53 percent of Americans lack protection.
According to NASN, this is because adolescent immunizations are not required
for school entry in all parts of the U.S., and many parents do not realize that
some of their children's vaccines do not last forever.
"Tetanus can be a painful disease requiring months of treatment and
recovery, including hospitalization and rehabilitation. It can even be fatal.
No one should ever suffer from this disease today when it can be so easily
prevented with a safe and effective vaccine," says Hootman. "The back-to-
school period is the perfect opportunity to catch up on immunizations."
NASN encourages parents to contact their child's school nurse or family
physician to see what vaccines adolescents need to stay safe throughout the
school year and beyond.
Tetanus is caused by an infection from bacteria that are commonly found in
soil, dust, insects and animals. Even minor cuts and scrapes carry a risk for
tetanus infection. While it is not a contagious disease, it is debilitating,
painful and potentially life-threatening. Symptoms can appear anytime from
three days to three weeks after exposure, but diagnosis is often delayed,
allowing the infection to worsen since tetanus occurs less frequently today
than in past decades. Typical symptoms include fatigue, irritability,
headache, neck stiffness, muscle rigidity and difficulty swallowing. Almost
all reported cases of tetanus occur in persons who have either never been
vaccinated, or who completed a primary series but have not had a booster
vaccine in the past 10 years. Fortunately, a combined shot protects against
tetanus and diphtheria, another infectious disease, for 10-year intervals.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection, which is contracted from
inhaling the bacteria from an infected person. Symptoms include sore throat,
fever, difficulty swallowing and swelling in the upper regions of the body.
According to NASN, a decrease in immunization rates could result in a
dangerous re-emergence of the disease. One example where diphtheria returned
due to lack of adult immunity was in Russia between 1990 and 1995. Because so many
people were unprotected, this diphtheria outbreak led to more than 157,000
cases and 5,000 preventable deaths.
Source: National Association of School Nurses (NASN)