The Houston Health Department recommends people in the Houston area cleaning, sanitizing and removing debris from homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey ensure they are up-to-date on their tetanus vaccinations.
People 7 years of age and older with puncture wounds or cuts exposed to Harvey floodwaters may be at risk for tetanus. They will need a tetanus shot if they have not had one in the past 10 years. They will need to consult their primary care physician or medical home.
People exposed to floodwaters without a wound or skin injury and up-to-date on their vaccinations don’t need a tetanus shot. The vast majority of Houston children are vaccinated against tetanus as part of required school vaccinations.
The department encourages people to consult their medical provider if they are unsure of their vaccination history.
Tetanus can be a serious illness of the nervous system. It can cause muscle spasms, particularly in the face, neck and back and locking of the jaw. For this reason, it is also called “lockjaw. “
Although people are at risk after exposure to floodwaters, it is important to remember that significant waterborne outbreaks of disease have not been seen following floods in the United States.
The department also recommends people avoid contact with floodwaters if they have open cuts or wounds.
People with open cuts or wounds who cannot avoid contact with floodwaters need to keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention.