Half of Adults in U.S. Unprotected Against Two Potentially Fatal, Preventable Diseases: Tetanus and Diphtheria

BETHESDA, Md. -- Home improvement expert Bob Vila and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and the National Coalition for Adult Immunization (NCAI) have teamed up to challenge adults across America to get up-to-date on routine tetanus and diphtheria boosters. Recent data reveal that 53 percent of people in the U.S. over age 20 are not protected against these diseases.

"I understand the importance of safety and prevention," says Bob Vila. "I run the risk of tetanus exposure from worksite injuries, and my travel outside the United States can take me to places where diphtheria is still a problem. You may be surprised to learn that you can get a tetanus infection from minor cuts and scrapes caused by household chores, outdoor leisure activities, animal and insect bites-even something as simple as a splinter. Luckily an effective vaccine can help you avoid both diseases."

Tetanus and diphtheria are serious, potentially fatal infectious diseases, but many people may not realize that their childhood vaccines don't protect them throughout their entire life. Tetanus is widely present in the environment and can enter the body through any simple wound -- not just from stepping on a rusty nail. Diphtheria is a contagious disease that is common in 87 countries and even present in parts of the U.S. However, adults and adolescents can protect themselves before exposure occurs by keeping their tetanus and diphtheria immunization up to date.

"The risks for tetanus and diphtheria should not be taken lightly," says NFID president Susan Rehm, MD. "While we've done a great job protecting our children against these diseases, this has become a neglected health issue among adults."

The Power of 10 public education campaign will focus on tetanus and diphtheria prevention with the goal of reversing some staggering statistics. While more than half of adults are no longer protected against both diseases, the problem gets even worse with age -- 70% of people over age 70 lack immunity to these diseases.

"We are concerned about two groups of people here," says Rehm. "The under-immunized, who had a primary series of shots to establish tetanus and diphtheria immunity, but have forgotten to get the booster every 10 years; and the un-immunized who have never been vaccinated against these diseases -- which is most likely those over age 60 since routine immunization was not common in childhood during that timeframe."

The Power of 10 campaign will educate the public about the need for tetanus and diphtheria boosters. It will include TV and radio public service announcements featuring campaign spokesperson Bob Vila, more information and a self-quiz on the web and in a brochure to help people assess their own immunization status and risk, and awareness events in many cities across the country. For more information about the Power of 10 campaign, tetanus and diphtheria or to take the Power of 10 quiz, visit the NFID Web site at www.nfid.org.

A tetanus infection is caused by bacteria commonly found in soil and other sources that can enter the body through any wound, large or small. It can be very difficult to treat and deadly. Symptoms can appear anywhere from three days to three weeks after exposure to the bacteria.

The most common form of tetanus causes paralysis, usually starting at the top of the body and working its way down. Lockjaw is often the first sign of the disease, followed by stiffness in the neck and trouble swallowing.

Diphtheria is spread from person-to-person and caused by bacteria that infect the throat and nasal passages. Like tetanus, it can be fatal if left untreated. The disease is still common in many countries, and some strains of the bacteria continue to circulate in parts of the U.S. Maintaining up-to-date immunity with a Td booster keeps the disease from recurring among the general domestic population and protects people who travel to countries where the risk of diphtheria exposure is high.

Founded in 1973, NFID is a non-profit organization dedicated to public and professional educational programs about, and in support of research into the causes, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.

NCAI is a network of more than 140 organizations dedicated to promoting adult immunization primarily through educational and motivational activities. The coalition was formed in 1988 to make the most efficient use of public and private resources to achieve national goals in adult immunization.

Source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases