Annual observation in honor of Lerma

Sue Fleming, The Freer Press

In memory of the late Crescendio "Chris" A. Lerma, Tetanus Awareness Week will be held throughout next week in honor of the Freer man who passed away at the age of 63 after succumbing to the disease eight years ago on July 27.

Since the loss of her husband, Elma Lerma, along with daughters, Gloria, Linda, Stella, Rosie, Elvia and Christine, has strived to inform the public about the importance of being immunized, in hopes of possibly sparing others from losing a loved one from the deadly disease.

A week following Lerma's death in 1999, more than 550 tetanus shots were given in Freer by the Texas Department of Public Health at the Laredo Medical Group clinic and more were also given during a health fair which was held at Freer ISD.

Tetanus, also known as "lockjaw," is a bacterial infection that leads to stiffness of the jaw and other muscles.

A cut, puncture wound, even if minor as was in Lerma's case, can lead to a tetanus infection in people without immunity.

Spores of the bacteria are usually found in soil, but can occur virtually anywhere.

If tetanus is contracted, treatment is available but the process is lengthy and not uniformly effective and despite treatment, may be fatal.

Tetanus enters the body through a wound, but is most likely to occur in a deep puncture wound or cut, like those made by nails or knives.

The first signs of the infection are usually a headache and spasms of the jaw muscles. The victim may become irritable.

As the poison spreads, it causes muscle spasms in the neck, arms, legs and stomach.

The victim may have painful convulsions, which could be severe enough to cause broken bones.

As the toxin spreads to the nerves, most people develop stiffness of the jaw and neck and experience difficulty swallowing.

Severe spasms can affect respiratory muscles making it difficult to breathe. Victims are usually awake and alert throughout the disease.

Symptoms may appear anywhere from a few days to several weeks after an injury.

The average incubation period for the disease is from eight to 12 days.

Though the disease is rare in the U.S., between 50 and 100 cases are reported annually, and a small number of those result in death.

The number of cases and deaths is high in developing countries.

To prevent contracting tetanus, people are advised to be vaccinated every 10 years by a physician.