Shots Needed ’Round The World

Kiwanis Club Dedicated To Eliminating Tetanus

Posted: August 24, 2013

Inhabitants of developing countries such as Haiti benefit from The Eliminate Project led by the Kiwanis. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)
(Photo by Courtesy Photo)
Kim Stanchfield, an employee of Rockingham Memorial Hospital, prepares a tetanus shot Aug. 8 at the health campus in Harrisonburg. Providing such immunizations to developing countries has become the mission of The Eliminate Project led by the Kiwanis Club. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
Fingers curled into tiny fists, the baby’s arms are pulled tightly into his chest-frozen in an unnatural position. Abdomen protruding, his back arched high into the air, threatening to split his minute body in half. With his mouth clamped shut due to a side effect known as lock-jaw, he’s unable to even wail in pain. ...

The infant described is a victim of tetanus — a disease caused by clostridium tetani, bacteria found in soil throughout the world. When its spores infect an open wound, they release toxins into the body that affect muscular contraction.

The result: dangerously severe muscle spasms that render victims unable to move, eat or eventually breathe.

Fortunately, due to a highly effective preventive vaccine, few in the United States will ever endure the pain of tetanus. However, in the developing world — where vaccines are a rarity and unsanitary conditions the norm — the disease remains prevalent.

Project Eliminate
Especially vulnerable: child-bearing women and their newborn infants.

“[Often,] the birth is taking place on the ground,” explained Harrisonburg local Jim Gilchrist, a retired chemical engineer. “Or they’re using something as primitive as bamboo to cut the umbilical cords.”

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 59,000 newborns died of tetanus in 2010.

To reduce this figure, the global volunteer organization Kiwanis International has partnered with the United Nations Children’s Fund to create The Eliminate Project.

The project’s goal is ambitious — to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus worldwide.

Gilchrist, a member of the Kiwanis club of Harrisonburg’s Eliminate Project Committee, says he developed a “key interest” in the program after seeing images of infected infants.

“I’ve seen films of children dying of this disease, and I’m telling you — it’s awful,” he said.

According to Gilchrist, The Eliminate Project sends volunteers to developing countries to deliver vaccinations and educate locals about the importance of sanitary birthing conditions. Although he says the project has proven itself effective in various countries, he insists the mission is far from over.

“The practical reality is, this will be an ongoing project ... because of the nature of the countries we’re dealing with — they’re extraordinary poor and lack [medical] knowledge,” he remarked.

Prevalence A Problem
Additionally, Gilchrist says the prevalence of tetanus makes total eradication next to impossible.

“You can eradicate polio because it’s not in the soil and it’s not going to be there everyday,” he points out.

“Tetanus is everywhere.”

To raise money for the cause, the Kiwanis Club of Harrisonburg has an ongoing fundraiser with a local Ruby Tuesdays.

“It’s a good project — we agree to steer people towards Ruby Tuesdays on certain dates, and they give 20 percent of people’s meals to The Eliminate Project,” said Gilchrist.

Treatment, Recovery
While contracting tetanus in a developing country is generally a death sentence, the disease is rarely fatal in the United States.

“Most of the people with tetanus can survive [with proper treatment],” said Dr. Stephen Philips, MD, MPH, a medical director at Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

Current treatment includes receiving an intramuscular shot of tetanus immune globulin, which contains high levels of tetanus antibodies to weaken the disease.

Until the TIG takes effect, muscle relaxers are used to reduce the spasms. If the spasms continue, Philips says a paralysis-inducing drug may need to be administered.

“The problem is, you’ll still be awake, but you can’t breathe,” he remarked, adding that a respirator is used to keep paralyzed patients alive. “It’s a very unpleasant thing.”

Even with high quality medical treatment, in severe cases, the disease can still prove fatal.

“If the toxins keep coming, it can overwhelm the body,” said Philips.

With the ideal strategy being prevention, Philips says the medical community advises all infants receive a tetanus vaccination, and recommends adolescents and adults receive a booster shot every 10 years.

“If you have a dirty or dangerous wound, and it’s been five years [since the booster], then you need to get another one,” he cautioned.

While most don’t enjoy getting shots, Philips points out that it’s a small price to pay.

“Sometimes, you can get a sore arm [from the shot],” he acknowledged. “But it’s well worth the discomfort to prevent this illness.”

Support The Project
Eat at the Harrisonburg Crossing Ruby Tuesdays on selected dates, mention the fundraiser and the Kiwanis Club will receive 20 percent of the meal cost to benefit the Eliminate Project.

Offer excludes drinks, coupons may not be used.

Upcoming dates include Sept. 24-25; Oct. 24-25; Nov. 19-20, and Dec. 17-18.

To donate, visit

Contact Katie King at 574-6271 or

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