Tetanus isn't just a childhood hazard

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Show of hands. How many of you have ever gouged yourself with a fillet knife? Stuck yourself with a fish hook? Stepped on broken glass? Had a tree limb make a deep impression on your flesh?

Thought so. I had all four of my hands in the air, too.

Now, how many of you have had a tetanus booster shot in the past decade?

Hmmm. Not nearly as many hands in the air.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says 53 percent of us in the adult category either never had a tetanus shot or the shots we had as kids have worn off and we're unprotected.

Between 1998 and 2000, there were 130 cases of tetanus. Of those cases, 73 percent involved a skin puncture or abrasion, and 63 percent of the total did not seek medical help.

Eighteen percent of the tetanus infections were fatal, but there were no deaths among folks with up-to-date shots.

"If you're lucky enough not to have had an accident, you probably don't think about it," says Dr. Susan Rehm, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "The insidious thing about tetanus is that wounds that look innocuous to the naked eye are dangerous."

Rehm, who works at the Cleveland Clinic, says she handled the case of a man who developed tetanus after getting a wooden splinter in his thumb.

Victims often mistake early symptoms - sore throat and muscle aches - for the flu. By the time the injured person begins having uncontrollable muscle spasms, or lockjaw as it used to be called, it's time for a trip to the intensive care unit and some up-close-and-personal time with a ventilator.

"People tend to think, 'I'll take my chances and if I get something, the doctors will fix it.' Well, it takes weeks to recover from tetanus," Rehm says. "People equate tetanus with stepping on a rusty nail, yet there are recreational activities we love that put us at risk."

I'm thinking back a year to the Bassmaster Classic, when angler Bud Pruitt became a one-man highlight film during the second day of competition.

In the middle of a battle with a spotted bass on Lay Lake in Alabama, Pruitt's lure pulled free and boomeranged in his direction. The hook missed his head but embedded itself in his chest.

As an ESPN cameraman recorded the action, Pruitt lifted his shirt and removed the hook with needle-nose pliers. Later, when I asked Pruitt if he had a tetanus shot, he smiled and shrugged.

And that's the problem, says Olympic gold-medal softball player Dot Richardson, who is promoting tetanus inoculations among the outdoors set.

Richardson, now medical director of the U.S. Triathlon National Training Center in Florida, says sportsmen and women "need to take ownership of their health."

If you had the three basic tetanus-diphtheria shots as a child, you need a booster shot every 10 years. If not, that series needs to be completed first.

"Nobody likes getting shots," Richardson says. "But I can guarantee you that you'll like tetanus even less. If you can't remember if you've had a tetanus shot, you're probably overdue."

Locally, Baltimore Colts legend Art Donovan led a tetanus inoculation campaign at Towson Town Center earlier this summer. Fortunately, the tough guy wasn't giving the shots - the staff of MedStar Health Visiting Nurse Association was.

"We find it's usually older people ... 45-50 ... who aren't up to date or where it's less clear whether there's immunity," says Dr. Denise Thurling, an emergency room physician at Anne Arundel Medical Center. "It's one of those diseases that is so infrequent that people forget about it. Well, it's real and it's out there.

"The emergency room is where we catch a lot of the cases that have fallen behind. We give a lot of tetanus shots. If they would just ask their primary care physicians, a lot of people could get caught up quickly."

The federal government has set a goal of eradicating tetanus among people younger than 35 by the year 2010. The rest of us are on our own.

"Just because you're more than 10 years behind," says Thurling, "doesn't mean you can't catch up."

Big bucks bass

OK, so it's not quite the $1.3 million payoff at this year's White Marlin Open ... but what is?

Still, the Big Buck Bass tournament next weekend at the Dundee Marina at Gunpowder Falls State Park has the potential for a $50,000 top prize or a new boat or a 2004 Toyota truck.

The event is in its fourth year. Last year, anglers won $19,400 during the 16 hours of fishing, which is not bad pay for doing something you were probably going to do, anyway.

The heaviest bass during the two-day event is good for a $5,000 check. The winner last year was 5.55-pound lunker. A contestant who weighs in a fish Saturday matching a pre-determined weight will win the truck. The same deal Sunday is worth a new boat.

An angler lucky enough to break the state record of 11 pounds, 2 ounces hauls away a check for $50,000.

You can print out an entry form from the WPOC-FM Web site and mail it in, or you can register in person - cash only -at the marina from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. The entry fee is $100 for one day and $140 for both.

Schwaab on the job

You can't keep a good man down.

So it comes as no surprise that Eric Schwaab, the DNR fisheries chief unceremoniously fired in April by the new Annapolis regime, has landed a better gig.

The Washington-based International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has hired Schwaab to be its resources director. The group, which has been around for more than a century, acts as a quasi-government umbrella for all the fish and game agencies in the 50 states and the federal governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Catonsville resident will be in charge of national programs and act as liaison for the group.

Schwaab will be at his desk starting Tuesday.

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