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"We have always been told to get a tetanus shot every 10 years, but actually, there is very little data to prove or disprove that timeline," said researcher Mark Slifka. He is a professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University.
Revising that vaccination schedule could also save the U.S. health care system hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the researchers added in a university news release.
For the study, the investigators examined immunity levels in over 500 adults. The researchers found that after completing the standard five-dose childhood vaccine series, adults remain protected against tetanus and diphtheria for at least 30 years without the need for further booster shots.
Slifka and his colleagues said a simplified age-based vaccination schedule for adults could involve a single booster vaccination at age 30 and another one at age 60.
"If you ask around, you often find that it is hard for people to remember if they had their last tetanus shot eight years ago or even 11 years ago," Slifka said. "If we were to use a simple age-based system, people would only have to remember to get their shots when they turn 30 and again when they turn 60."
The researchers also estimated that changing from a 10-year to a 30-year schedule could save about $280 million in health care costs a year, and about $1 billion over four years.
The study authors noted that the World Health Organization recommends only a single adult booster vaccination during military service or when a woman becomes pregnant for the first time. The United Kingdom and some other countries recommend no adult booster shots at all.
The new study was published online March 21 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tetanus and diphtheria are infections caused by bacteria. Tetanus-causing bacteria can enter the body through cuts, scratches or wounds. Diphtheria can spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Both infections are rare in the United States, but can cause severe complications.
-- Robert Preidt
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