Thorns

What do they 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 messy clumps, often entwined among other plants
  • holly

Roses or briars

Raspberries and blackberries

Holly

Why are they dangerous?

Thorns, needles or spines from plants such as roses, holly, blackberry bushes and brambles, or any other plant which can tear your skin, can cause infections or other medical problems. The most dangerous of these infections is called Tetanus. Tetanus is a serious but rare condition that can be fatal if untreated. Anything from 3 to 33 people in Britain catch tetanus each year and in most years, 2 or 3 people die.  

If you are scratched or pricked by a thorn whilst your hands are dirty with soil, you are in particular danger. The bacteria that cause Tetanus can enter your body through a wound or cut in your skin. They are often found in soil and manure.

Most people are vaccinated against tetanus and it is not too late to get a vaccination, or a booster, right after being scratched by a dirty thorn. You may need a Tetanus injection if the injury has broken your skin and your vaccinations aren’t up-to-date. 

How can I avoid them?

  • Teach children how to check for plants with spiny leaves or thorns. In particular, show them how to recognise wild roses, blackberries and raspberries, all if which can have hidden thorns.
  • Always wear gardening gloves and a thick jacket if you handle thorny plants while gardening. 

What to do if a thorn scratches or pricks me?

What to do:

  • Remove thorns with tweezers – sometimes this is easier after soaking the area in warm water for a few minutes.
  • Clean the area with disinfectant.

Professional help

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

  • 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.

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

A full course of Tetanus vaccinations consists of five doses of the vaccine. This should be enough to give you long-term protection from Tetanus. However, if you are unsure of how many doses you have received, you may need a booster dose if you sustain an injury that breaks your skin. If you have definitely received five doses of the Tetanus vaccine, you are fully vaccinated and do not need a booster dose.

Emergency help

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.

 

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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