Tetanus on the rise in Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia

Because a vast area needs to be covered and many people are at risk, MSF has asked other organizations to also start prevention activities. Jakarta - MSF teams working in different locations in Aceh, Sumatra, are being increasingly confronted with cases of tetanus, a potentially life threatening disease. They have already found 67 cases of the disease: 45 in Banda Aceh; 15 in Meulaboh; and 6 in Sigli. The numbers are rapidly increasing. There is a high mortality rate of approximately 25%. People are becoming infected when they search for corpses or useful objects in the rubble left by the tsunami. Wounds on their arms and legs can become infected by the tetanus bacteria when they walk through the mud. Since the disease has an incubation period of between two and 60 days, most cases are only starting to show up now. The fear is that many more people will develop the disease in days and weeks to come. Today MSF teams started tetanus prevention work in Banda Aceh port. A tent has been set up in Ulee Lhue, one of the most devastated areas of town, to provide medical consultations, give dressings and to raise awareness among the local population about tetanus, its risks and how to prevent it. During a rapid assessment done by the MSF team, six people, who were searching in the debris, were checked for the risk of being contaminated with tetanus. All of them had wounds on arms and/or legs and three of them had wounds that were infected. "We will first work on prevention," explained Loris De Filippi, Medical Coordinator for MSF in Aceh province. "We have set up a mobile clinic in one of the areas where a lot of people are digging in the rubbish, and have already started providing medical consultations and dressings for the wounded. "In the same place we will distribute protective clothing, including 500 boots and 1,500 gloves. We will use a car equipped with megaphones to drive around the area and inform people about tetanus and to explain how to prevent it. We will also treat the disease and start giving vaccinations." Because a vast area needs to be covered and many people are at risk, MSF has asked other organizations to also start prevention activities. Since the vaccination coverage is probably very low in Aceh, the population would need a series of three tetanus injections to be fully protected for ten years. One vaccination will only give them partial immunity. Tetanus is caused by a certain type of bacteria which often live in soil. Humans can become infected when the bacteria enters the body via a break in the skin, for example through wounds. Tetanus can lead to respiratory paralysis and tonic spasms, rigidity of certain muscles - especially those of the lower jaw and neck - and is often fatal. People who have the infection usually need to be treated in intensive care in hospital for one month. MSF has been active in Aceh, Sumatra, since 28 December, two days after the disaster and was the first international humanitarian organization to arrive on the spot. MSF is providing medical care in five different locations throughout the province, and has 117 staff present (61 foreign and 56 Indonesian aid workers)