Here’s a question I received the other day:

"Do people who work with animals and who work in barns need a tetanus shot as a result of this type of work?  We have Therapeutic Riding Programs in the region and there is a sense that perhaps the volunteers and those who frequently tend the horses need to receive this.  Is this the case?"

Tetanus is a disease that we are quite concerned about in horses because horses are very susceptible to it. That’s why we vaccinate them yearly. Tetanus can also affect people, but very rarely because of vaccination and because people have lower susceptibility to the disease. While we pay a lot of attention to tetanus in horses, this does not mean that being around horses increases a person’s likelihood of exposure to tetanus. The bacterium that causes tetanus, Clostridium tetani, lives in soil and commonly present in the environment. The more environmental exposure that you have (especially to soil), the greater your risk of exposure to C. tetani. Being around horses doesn’t increase your risk any more than doing other things outside.

Whether you have contact with horses or not should not change your approach towards tetanus prevention. You should be vaccinated against tetanus every 10 years. Many (probably most, actually) adults are not up-to-date on tetanus vaccination. Adults tend not to get booster shots on schedule, and often only receive them when they have had a wound that requires medical care. For example, If you get stitches, the medical staff will almost certainly inquire about your last tetanus shot, and give you another one if you haven’t been vaccinated in the past 10 years (or if you can’t remember).

More information about tetanus in horses is available on the equIDblog Resources page.

This Worms & Germs blog entry was originally posted on our sister site, equIDblog, on 10-Jul-09.