Print E-mail
Volume 33, Number 3, September 2000

Tetanus of the elderly

Hsin-Chun Lee, Wen-Chien Ko, Yin-Ching Chuang
Department of Internal Medicine, National Cheng Kung University Hospital, Tainan, Taiwan, ROC



The medical records of 20 tetanus patients who were treated at a university teaching hospital in Taiwan during the period from October 1991 to July 1999 were retrospectively analyzed. There were 18 adults (six males and 12 females) with unknown previous immunization status and ages ranging from 34 to 87 years old (mean 63 years). Two patients were children, aged 3 and 5 years old, respectively; both of them had incomplete tetanus immunization. Of the 17 patients reporting previous acute injury, 10 had tetanus-prone wounds. Four of six patients who sought medical help for wound management received tetanus toxoid, but none received tetanus immunoglobulins. The most common symptoms were trismus, dysphagia, and muscular rigidity. Specific treatment consisted of active and passive immunization, wound management, parenteral antibiotics, and benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants or neuromuscular blockades for control of spasms and sedation. All adults were admitted to the intensive care unit and an artificial airway was established. Fourteen of them required ventilator support during the illness. Prophylactic tracheostomy was performed within 24 h after arrival in 12 (92%) of 13 patients. Two patients died with an overall mortality rate of 10%. Sequelae were rare in the patients who survived. Because of inclusion of the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccine in the national Children's Vaccine Program and improvement in obstetrical practices and neonatal care in Taiwan, tetanus mainly occurs in people older than 65 years instead of neonates or children. Waning immunity to tetanus in the elderly and poor wound management practices by primary care physicians were contributory factors.


J Microbiol Immunol Infect 2000;33:191-196.