Tetanus: Still a Risk

Outreach program educates Latino day laborers

Published on LatinoLA: July 22, 2003

Tetanus: Still a Risk

This summer, there is a hidden danger lurking among the men who work as day laborers in construction sites, fields and industrial locations throughout Southern California. Tetanus ? the disease which causes uncontrollable muscle spasms and which can be fatal ? poses a risk to this large group of Southern California residents who make their living as temporary workers for hire in often-dangerous and less-than-sanitary locations.

A press conference announcing the launch of the Prevenci?n Contra El T?tanos (Prevention Against Tetanus) campaign, directed toward the region?s day laborer population and the Latino community at-large, took place recently at the Downtown Community Job Center, 109 West 14th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90015. The Job Center is one of three day labor project sites administered by IDEPSCA (Instituto Educaci?n Popular del Sur de California).

Participants in the press conference included Aliza Lifshitz, MD, the well-known and respected physician and author known as Doctora Aliza, affiliated to the Department of Internal Medicine at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and David Talan MD, professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine and Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine and Faculty of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.

They discussed the causes and dangers of Tetanus and described how to prevent the disease. Details on the Tetanus prevention campaign, which include a video news release, Spanish-language lunch truck advertisement and brochures to be distributed at organized day labor sites throughout Southern California, were presented.

The objective of the Prevenci?n Contra El T?tanos campaign is to encourage workers who suffer from high-risk wounds to seek immediate medical attention, which may include protection via the immunization with tetanus immunoglobulin.

Tetanus immunoglobulin is a blood product from individuals who already have tetanus antibodies, which is disinfected and has been shown to be safe and effective. Tetanus Immunoglobulin provides temporary protection to persons who have not been immunized or that don?t have the information regarding their immunizations.

Tetanus occurs as a complication of wounds becoming contaminated or infected with a certain type of bacteria that lives in the soil. Wounds at high risk of tetanus include cuts, puncture wounds, and wounds resulting from crushing and burns, particularly if they are contaminated with dirt, feces, soil or saliva.

As recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular immunizations of tetanus toxoid, known as the tetanus shot, are given from infancy and later through life in the form of booster shots. This had led to the low rates of the disease among the U.S. born population.

But because day laborers are primarily immigrants from Latin American countries, they have more than likely not received adequate tetanus protection, either because this was not available or required during their childhood or because of the lack of medical services in some developing countries. Also, the type of work that day laborers are often hired for, which includes roofing, drywall, landscape clearing, and excavation, can result in wounds that, if not treated adequately, can result in tetanus contamination.

?If a person is injured with a cut, puncture wound or burn, they should seek immediate medical attention,? said Dr. Lifshitz. ?The single most important preventive measure to prevent the spread of tetanus is to maintain a high level of immunization in the community.?

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