Proper animal welfare reduces tetanus threat

Dear daktari, I am an ardent reader of your articles in Smart Harvest. I am an animal welfare proponent who has volunteered to create awareness on the same. Recently during an awareness campaign, some farmers in Embu asked me to explain the relationship between sldonkeys and tetanus. Although I managed to dissuade them from the false notion that donkeys can infect humans with tetanus, I think I didn’t have the facts. Kindly shed light on this issue.

Thuranira, Embu.

Thank you very much Mr Thuranira for bringing up the issue of tetanus and donkeys. There is indeed a lot of misinformation on this topic. Donkeys have been demonised as a cause of tetanus in human beings when in reality it is the most affected animal by this disease. To drive the point home, let’s start by dissecting what tetanus is.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a bacterial disease that affects man and animals. The route of infection is through open wounds. Infection can also occur when an animal or a person is pierced by a contaminated object which transfers the bacteria into the blood system. The bacteria affects nerves and therefore tetanus is characterised by muscle paralysis and rigidity. Tetanus in donkeys can abruptly cause death when the muscles of respiration are affected.

Clostridium tetani which is the bacteria that causes tetanus is widely distributed in soils. They are also found in the digestive system of humans, domestic animals and chicken.

In human beings, the disease is characterised by the inability to open the mouth, seizures, fever and sweating and headache. Tetanus in children is a common problem in rural areas through the contamination of the umbilical cord wound. In some cultures, soil is spread on the umblical wound of the neonate spreading the disease to the fragile being.

Why donkeys are most at risk

From the above description, it is clear why the disease affects the donkey most. Donkeys are working animals, and it is not uncommon to come across mistreated ones with wounds which are brought about by whipping or use of poor harnesses and halters to anchor the cart. All these cause wounds on donkeys. Tetanus bacteria are found in soils and donkeys like rolling in soils further predisposing their wounds for contamination.

How to prevent and control tetanus in donkeys

Donkeys can be vaccinated aganaist tetanus but this is not enough, fully vaccinated donkeys can still come down with tetanus when the wounds are heavily contaminated. Observing animal welfare is important in ensuring that donkeys are privided with good padding to avoid injuries from halters and harnesses. Don’t whip donkeys, they don’t deserve that after offering you their traction power.

Whenever there is a wound, it should be cleaned with water and a mild disinfectant (iodine). The hair around should be clipped and insect repellant applied. The dead wound tissues create favourable conditions for tetanus causing bacteria.

Tetanus can be treated through flushing of the wound and us of antibiotics. Wound flushing is only possible when the wound site can be located. The animal with tetanus signs should be rested and handled minimally. Antibiotics respond well if the treatment is initiated early.


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