Immunity to Tetanus and Diphtheria in Rural Africa

View More View Less
  • Center for Medical Parasitology at the RHIMA Center, Copenhagen University Hospital and Institute for Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Copenhagen, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Vaccine Department, Statens Seruminstitut, Copenhagen, Denmark

To assess the effect of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in rural Africa, blood samples were collected in two Kenyan sublocations. Serum antibodies against tetanus toxoid were measured in 155 individuals 1–70 years of age. Titers greater than the protective level of 0.01 IU/ml were found in 47% of the population. Protection was significantly higher in children born after the launching of the EPI (68%) and in women who had been at childbearing age since then (69%). Significantly lower protection was demonstrated in other age and sex-groups. The level of protection in children was equal in the two populations, whereas protection in fertile women was significantly lower in the population living a long distance from a health center. Diphtheria anti-toxin was measured in the samples from one sublocation, and 70 of 84 individuals (83%) had antibody levels greater than the protective level. No age or sex difference could be found, and there was no correlation between response levels to diphtheria and tetanus. This implicates natural infections as an important source of diphtheria antibodies. Our findings demonstrate a need for better coverage of the adult population against tetanus. Furthermore, diphtheria transmission still appears to take place, underscoring the importance of diphtheria vaccination of travelers to rural Africa.