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Texas Health Officials Implore Residents to Receive Tetanus Shots

As Hurricane Harvey continues to dump heavy rains on Texas, health officials are urging residents to stay away from floodwater and get tetanus shots.

As Hurricane Harvey moves across the southwestern region of the United States, it has left mass destruction and tragedy in its wake.

The devastation in Houston, Texas, in particular, has been making headlines, as flooding caused by the hurricane has completely ravaged the area. In part because of a staggering 30 inches of rain that accumulated over the span of just a few days, at least 10 individuals have lost their lives, and many more have been injured. The storm set a new calendar-day record rainfalls exceeding 51 inches in some parts of the Houston metro area.

Individuals are worrying about the safety of their loved ones as well as their homes, but the devastating floods caused by the hurricanes also carry the threat of serious infectious diseases. As the water continues to rise, contact with contaminated water is essentially unavoidable. Officials from the Texas Department of State Health Services have been vigorously working to respond to the public health crisis; and, in a recent article, Contagion® covered the many different water-borne infections that are often caused by flooding.

According to Newsweek, health officials warned individuals to avoid drinking tap water, an action that may be crucial when it comes to avoiding infection, especially since health officials recently drained two reservoirs to “prevent subsequent infrastructure problems;” these reservoirs partially account for some of the city’s water supply. By draining the reservoirs, drinking water may come into contact with floodwaters. Health officials released a warning that floodwater “may contain bacteria, hazardous chemicals, and dangerous debris.” Thus, residents should either boil their drinking water to remove any harmful bacteria or drink bottled water instead.

In addition to the water advisory, health officials have been filling requests for tetanus vaccinations and sending the vaccines to affected areas throughout the state. In a recent press release, Phil Huang, MD, MPH, medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health in the state capital reported that one of Austin’s community health centers has set up mobile clinics to assist individuals living in shelters who are in need of prescription drugs; the clinics can fill existing prescriptions or write new ones, if necessary. The state is also working with H-E-B, a grocery chain based in San Antonio, Texas, to fill prescriptions for individuals “as long as there is some way to verify the prescription,” NPR reports.

Tetanus is an infection caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria. When C. tetani make their way into the body, they create a toxin that causes painful muscle contractions, and can also lead to a condition is which the jaw remains locked (“Lockjaw”), during which an individual is unable to open their mouth or swallow. Although the bacteria are often found in soil, dust, and manure, they are known to spread through cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects. Several vaccines are available that offer protection against tetanus, such as the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine for children, and the Tdap vaccine, which provides similar protection, but is recommended for individuals age 11 to 64. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults receive a tetanus booster, Td (tetanus, diphtheria) every 10 years.

As Hurricane Harvey continues to bear down on the Southern states, health officials are urging state residents to avoid floodwater as much as they can; it may be their best shot at avoiding infectious diseases.