Humanitarian Health Action

FAQs: Japan tsunami concerns

21 March 2011

Is there a risk of tetanus infection?

In the aftermath of a tsunami, piles of debris are potential cause for cuts and injuries. Tetanus spores can enter the body through a wound that is contaminated with soil, dust or animal waste. Spores can get into the body through even a tiny pinprick or scratch, but they usually enter through deep puncture wounds or cuts, like those made by nails or knives.

Vaccination is the only way to protect against tetanus. In Japan, a booster immunization against tetanus is recommended every 10 years. According to 2010 data from WHO and UNICEF, Japan has very high tetanus immunization coverage in children (98% in 2009), greatly decreasing the risk of tetanus post-tsunami. However, older persons who may have missed out on tetanus immunizations and those who have not kept up with boosters could be at risk.