The Claim: Stepping on a Rusty Nail
Can Cause Tetanus
NY Times ^ | February 22, 2005 | ANAHAD O'CONNOR
Posted on 02/22/2005 6:15:55 PM PST by
THE FACTS Any 10-year-old can explain the link between rusty nails
and tetanus. But few people realize that the bacteria that cause it
are widespread and that the disease has less to do with rust than with
the nature of a wound.
Clostridia bacteria, the family of C. tetani, can be found in soil,
dust, feces and on the skin. They reproduce only in the absence of
oxygen, so any wound deep enough can become a breeding ground.
A rusty nail will do. But the infection can come from many sources
- sewing needles, animal bites, gardening tools, splinters. Injuries
that create dead skin, like burns and frostbite, can also lead to
The symptoms can be severe. Once the bacteria get underneath the
skin, they produce toxins that attack the central nervous system,
causing spasms and muscle rigidity all over the body, most frequently
in the face. About a quarter of the estimated 50 to 100 Americans who
contract the disease each year die.
Although the tetanus vaccine is routinely given to children, its
effects wear off after 10 years, and many people fail to get boosters.
THE BOTTOM LINE Any object, rusty or not, that punctures or damages
the skin can lead to tetanus.