We’ve been very focused on tetanus lately. So, though I’ve written about this lethal disease before, I thought it was time to revisit it.
Here in the U.S., we tend to think of tetanus as the very uncommon”and easily treatable”disease you might get from, say, stepping on an old nail. But, in many developing countries, tetanus is a deadly and all-to-familiar specter. Just a decade ago, 215,000 newborn babies and 30,000 mothers were dying from tetanus each year.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2002-0263/Giacomo Pirozzi|
|A woman in Mali is immunized against tetanus by a traditional birth attendant trained to promote and administer the vaccines.
How does tetanus have such a dreaded impact in parts of the world? In countries where women have little access to health care, they’re often forced to give birth in unsanitary conditions. And the bacteria spores that thrive in such conditions have a very easy time passing through a newly cut umbilical cord. Sadly, it’s as simple as that.
Once the bacteria has gotten into a baby, it produces a deadly toxin that attacks the baby’s nervous system. The results are truly horrific: the newborn’s tiny body painfully, repeatedly convulses. And the baby has little chance of survival”in some countries, the fatality rate for tetanus is as high as 70 to 100%.
We refer to this phenomenon as maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). One of the reasons we focus so much time and energy on MNT is that we actually have the power to wipe it off the face of the Earth. I often write about the 25,000 children who die each day from preventable causes, and how we’re working to get that number to zero. Well, MNT is practically the poster child for the word preventable.