If you believe the experts
only 60% of American adults have adequate immunization to ward off diphtheria
infections and 72% are protected against tetanus.
Tetanus is a sometimes-fatal
illness caused by toxin-producing bacteria that usually takes hold in
a cut or wound. The disease is characterized by painful muscle spasms
Diphtheria is caused by another
type of bacteria that primarily attack the larynx, tonsils and throat.
The toxin produced by the bug can damage the nerves and heart.
While most US children receive
immunization for diphtheria and tetanus, many adults may not realize that
over time the protection provided by the shots can wane.
In the study, 18,045 people
aged 6 years and older were tested for the presence of diphtheria and
tetanus antibodies in their blood between 1988 and 1994.
The researchers found that
91% of children aged 6 to 11
years were found to have protective levels of diphtheria and tetanus antibodies.
However, the number of adults found to have protective levels was another
Overall, only about 50% of
adults had protective antibodies to both diseases, and among those 70
years and older, only about 30% had protective levels against either of
the two illnesses.
Although diphtheria and tetanus
occur only rarely in the US, a recent outbreak of diphtheria in the former
Soviet Union is a reminder that even a well-controlled infection can re-emerge
when population immunity is not maintained.
Since immunity to diphtheria
and tetanus decreases with age, doctors should re-immunize patients at
11 to 12 years of age and every 10 years thereafter, as recommended by
the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
May 6, 2002
of Internal Medicine May 7, 2002;136:660-666