What does it look like?

A wide variety of plants found in the British countryside have thorns that can scratch or tear the skin and cause bleeding.

They include:

  • wild roses or briars,
  • raspberries which grow in upright “canes”
  • blackberry bushes, also known as brambles, which form vast messg clumps often entwined among other plants
  • holly

Why is it dangerous?

Thorns, needles or spines from plants such as roses, holly, blackberry bushes, brambles can cause infections or other medical problems if they become implanted in your skin. The most dangerous of these infections is called Tetanus.

If you are scratched or pricked by a thorn whilst your hands are dirty with soil, you are in particular danger.

You may need a tetanus jab if the injury has broken your skin and your tetanus vaccinations aren’t up-to-date. Tetanus is a serious but rare condition that can be fatal if untreated. The bacteria that can cause tetanus can enter your body through a wound or cut in your skin. They are often found in soil and manure.

How can I avoid it?

Avoid injuries by teaching children how to check for plants with spiny leaves or thorns and always wear gardening gloves when you handle thorny plants.

What to do if it scratches or pricks me?

What to do:

  1. Remove thorns with tweezers – sometimes this is easier after soaking the area in warm water for a few minutes.
  2. You should then clean the area with disinfectant.

You should contact your GP or visit your nearest minor injuries unit if you’re concerned about a wound, particularly if:

  • the wound is deep
  • the wound contains dirt or a foreign object
  • you haven’t been fully vaccinated against tetanus
  • you’re not sure whether you’ve been fully vaccinated against tetanus

Your GP can assess the wound and decide if you need a vaccination or any other treatment.

You should immediately go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call 999 for an ambulance if you develop severe muscle stiffness or spasms, which can be a sign of tetanus.

Tetanus vaccination is given as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme against tetanus.

A full course of tetanus vaccination consists of five doses of the vaccine. This should be enough to give you long-term protection from tetanus. However, if you’re not sure how many doses you’ve received, you may need a booster dose after an injury that breaks your skin. If you’ve definitely received five doses of the tetanus vaccine, you are fully vaccinated and don’t need a booster dose.

If you have a tetanus-prone wound, get medical treatment as soon as possible, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated. Public Health England defines tetanus-prone wounds as:

  • wounds or burns that need surgery, but where surgery cannot be performed within 24 hours
  • wounds or burns where a significant amount of tissue has been removed, or puncture-type injuries such as animal bites, particularly if they have had contact with soil or manure
  • wounds containing any substance that shouldn’t be there, such as dust or dirt (foreign bodies)
  • serious fractures where the bone is exposed and prone to infection (compound fractures)
  • wounds and burns in people who have systemic sepsis, a fall in blood pressure resulting from a serious bacterial infection

If you have a tetanus-prone wound and it’s considered to be high risk, treatment with tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG) is recommended. TIG is a solution that contains infection-fighting cells (antibodies) that kill the tetanus bacteria. You will need TIG even if you’re fully vaccinated against tetanus.

If you are in any doubt whatsoever about a wound, go to your doctor without delay.

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