OBJECTIVE--To emphasise that tetanus still occurs in the United Kingdom, particularly in elderly people-as illustrated by two case reports-and to examine the state of tetanus immunity in elderly people. METHODS--111 elderly people (over 65 years) were studied: 43 males, mean age 77.7 years, range 67-94; 68 females, mean age 81.3 years, range 67-95. They were either attending the accident service or were hospital inpatients. An attempt was made to obtain an immunisation history and antitetanus antibody titres were measured. RESULTS--Immunisation history was uncertain and unreliable. Measurement of antibody titres showed that they were inadequate to ensure protection in 50% of those studied. Low levels were particularly prevalent in the over 80 age group and in females. Questioning about military service confirmed that this had predominantly involved males. CONCLUSIONS--Elderly people are at risk of contracting tetanus and should be targeted for community immunisation. Extra precautions in the form of passive immunisation with human anti-tetanus immunoglobulin should be used in this age group in addition to the usual wound management measures when the elderly sustain tetanus prone injuries.
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