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Doctors sound alert on tetanus

Although infection is rare, booster jabs could have avoided each of the deaths

DOCTORS have sounded the alarm over tetanus deaths in France, saying that even although rare, each death could be avoided.

While just 11 deaths have been reported out of the 36 cases between 2008 and 2011, the healthcare report Bulletin Epidémiologique Hebdomadaire said the victims could have been saved if they had had kept their tetanus booster vaccinations up to date.

Report author Denise Antona, of the health watchdog Institut de Veille Sanitaire (InVS), said "All these deaths could have been avoided. We should move to a system where booster jab reminders are given at each GP appointment to underline the importance of this vaccination which has few side-effects."

Children are given the vaccine as part of the DTCPolio Hib jab in France - the same as the DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine given in the UK - but adults should check if they have ever had a tetanus vaccination.

It did not start in UK schools until 1961 (although members of the Armed Forces got it earlier) and adults should get booster jabs every 10 years.

French cases have been mostly in older people - with an average age of 82 for the 36 victims.

Tetanus is an acute toxic infection caused by the anaerobic bacteria Clostridium tetani that lives in the soil, and has a high death rate. It is most often caused by a cut from a tool that has been in contact with soil (13 out of 36), such as a gardening cut; an open wound that touches the ground (nine cases), or a scratch from an animal (two cases).

The rate of tetanus fell over the last half of the 20th century, falling from 300 cases a year in 1975 to around 10 a year in the late 1990s.

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