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  • Jere Folgert

Tetanus! Rusty Metal and Your Soil

We just unloaded a trailer load of aged horse manure for our Garlic. While the poop was flying off the trailer, I looked over at our garlic patch and I swear, I saw many of the plants smiling and giggling. To avoid obvious threats, we wore N95 masks while loading and unloading - we took precautions to avoid breathing in airborne dust. We did not realize there were other hidden dangers hidden in that aged poop. Later that afternoon, I stepped on a rusty nail that was hidden in the manure. Apparently the owner of the horse ranch had hired a crew to remove old fences, and somehow nails got into the mix.

The benefits of gardening are many. There's the obvious; Growing our own food. And the not-so obvious; Ecotherapy: Improving Mental Health Through Being Outdoors, Stress relief, and maybe even an altered state of consciousness. However, we need to protect ourselves and take proper precautions when we are outside with tools, nails, soil and other dangers, including Tetanus. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), emergency rooms treat more than 400,000 outdoor garden tool-related accidents each year. With proper safety techniques, you can stay away from the hospital and avoid becoming a statistic.

Dangers of Tetanus

Traditionally, the most common and well-known infection is tetanus, caused by Clostridium tetani, which lives in soil and manure. Infections occur through contamination of cuts and scrapes caused by things in contact with the soil, such as garden tools or rose thorns. We need to follow these precautions to avoid injuries, pain and discomfort:

  • Wear Gloves: Wearing the proper gloves will not only reduce blistering but will also protect your skin from fertilizers, pesticides, bacteria and fungus that live in the soil. When exposed to soil, even the smallest cut runs the risk of developing into a major hand infection. Leather gloves offer protection from thorny objects and poison ivy, snake, rodent and insect bites, and other skin irritants in the garden. Gloves also prevent sun damage and fingernail damage.

  • Be Observant: Keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings. Know where your feet and hands are - at all times.

  • Use Tools in the Soil, Not Your Hands : Use a hand shovel or rake rather than your hand for digging. Sharp objects and debris buried in the soil may cut you. If possible, remove objects from the work area before beginning the task to avoid causing damage to you or your tools.

  • Use the Right Tool for the Job: Avoid accidents by using tools for their intended purposes. When purchasing pruners, loppers or shears, look for brands featuring a safety lock. Avoid products with form-fitting handles. These tools only fit one size of hand perfectly. If your hand is too large or too small, it will put more stress on your hand. Always follow the manufacturers’ instructions for the tool. Keep sharp tools away from children at all times. Always unplug electrical tools and disconnect spark plug wires on gasoline-powered tools when not in use.

  • Don't Pretend You are Immune : If you cut your skin and your cut is exposed to soil, be aware of the sy mptoms of Tetanus and seek medical help.

What to do in Case of Injury

If you cut your finger or hand, bleeding from minor cuts will often stop by applying direct pressure to the cut with a clean cloth. Visit the emergency room if:

  • Continuous pressure does not stop the bleeding after 15 minutes.

  • You notice persistent numbness or tingling in the fingertip or have trouble moving the finger.

  • You are unsure of your tetanus immunization status.

  • You are unable to thoroughly clean the wound by rinsing with a mild soap and plenty of clean water.

Remember to safely enjoy the health benefits of gardening by using your hands and tools wisely.

Tetanus is an infection caused by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. Spores of tetanus bacteria are everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust, and manure. The spores develop into bacteria when they enter the body.


Tetanus is a serious illness caused by Clostridium bacteria. The bacteria live in soil, saliva, dust, and manure. The bacteria can enter the body through a deep cut, like those you might get from stepping on a nail, or through a burn. The infection causes painful tightening of the muscles, usually all over the body. It can lead to "locking" of the jaw. This makes it impossible to open your mouth or swallow. Tetanus is a medical emergency. You need to get treatment in a hospital.

A vaccine can prevent tetanus. It is given as a part of routine childhood vaccination. Adults should get a tetanus shot, or booster, every 10 years. If you get a bad cut or burn, see your doctor - you may need a booster. Immediate and proper wound care can prevent tetanus infection.

Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is “lockjaw”. It often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. CDC recommends vaccines for infants, children, teens, and adults to prevent tetanus.

Common Way to Get Tetanus in your Body

Stepping on nails or other sharp objects is one way people are exposed to the bacteria that cause tetanus. These bacteria are in the environment and get into the body through breaks in the skin.

The spores can get into the body through broken skin, usually through injuries from contaminated objects. Tetanus bacteria are more likely to infect certain breaks in the skin. These include:

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, poop (feces), or spit (saliva)

  • Wounds caused by an object puncturing the skin (puncture wounds), like a nail or needle

  • Burns

  • Crush injuries

  • Injuries with dead tissue

Less Common Way to Get Tetanus in your Body

Tetanus bacteria can also infect the body through breaks in the skin caused by:

  • Clean superficial wounds (when only the topmost layer of skin is scraped off)

  • Surgical procedures

  • Insect bites

  • Dental infections

  • Compound fractures (a break in the bone where it is exposed)

  • Chronic sores and infections

  • Intravenous (IV) drug use

  • Intramuscular injections (shots given in a muscle)

How Long Does it Take From Exposure to Illness?

SThe incubation period — time from exposure to illness — is usually between 3 and 21 days (average 10 days). However, it may range from one day to several months, depending on the kind of wound. Most cases occur within 14 days. In general, doctors see shorter incubation periods with:

  • More heavily contaminated wounds

  • More serious disease

  • A worse outcome (prognosis)

Tetanus is an uncommon but very serious disease caused by spores of bacteria found in the environment. Make sure you and your loved ones are up to date with their tetanus vaccine so you can enjoy being outdoors safely.

Several vaccines protect against tetanus, all of which also protect against other diseases:

  • DTaP protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough)

  • DT protects against diphtheria and tetanus

  • Tdap protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis

  • Td protects against tetanus and diphtheria

Importance of Vaccine Treatment

Most people who get a tetanus vaccine do not have any serious problems with it. However, side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild, meaning they do not affect daily activities. See the vaccine information statement for each vaccine to learn more about the most common side effects.

More Information

  • Tetanus Disease Information

  • Tetanus Vaccination

  • What Everyone Should Know

  • Information for Healthcare Professionals

  • Vaccination Schedules (Parent-friendly)

  • Vaccines for Children Program

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