Tetanus

Learn about the risks of tetanus

Tetanus is an infection of the nervous system, caused by the bacteria C. Tetani. The symptoms are caused by the neurotoxin tetanospasmin, which causes prolonged contraction of the skeletal muscle fibres. The infection is usually contracted through a cut or deep puncture wound. As tetanus progresses, it causes muscle spasms, most notably in the jaw, where it is called lockjaw. Tetanus can be prevented either by vaccination, or by post-exposure prophylaxis.

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What is tetanus caused by?

The most common way that a sufferer contracts tetanus is through a cut or deep puncture wound. The cut becomes infected with the C. Tetani bacteria. Rough surfaces, such as rusty metal, provide an excellent habitat for C. Tetani, thus the common conception that tetanus is caused by being cut by rusty nail. After C. Tetani enters the damaged tissue, it begins reproducing. As the bacteria dies, it releases the neurotoxin tetanospasmin, which in turn causes the major symptoms of tetanus.

What are tetanus symptoms?

Tetanus has an incubation period of at least several days, and up to several months. The first symptom to appear is trismus (lockjaw), and facial spasms. These are followed by difficulty swallowing, neck stiffness, and rigidity in the calf and pectoral muscles. Spasms may last several minutes. Tetanus can also cause fever, sweating, high blood pressure, and rapid heart rate. Symptoms may continue for several weeks after treatment. Untreated, tetanus is often fatal.

Tetanus treatment

The best treatment for tetanus is prevention. Tetanus can be prevented by a tetanus shot, vaccination with the tetanus toxoid. The CDC recommends that adults receive a booster vaccine at least every ten years. Many localities will give a booster vaccine to a patient with a puncture wound if the patient's vaccination history is unclear. This may or may not prevent a case of tetanus from developing. Children normally receive a tetanus vaccine as part of a combined vaccine. In addition, wounds should be cleaned thoroughly.

If a tetanus infection has developed, treatment will vary based on whether the tetanus is mild or severe. Mild tetanus can be treated with tetanus immunoglobulin IV or IM, ten days of the antibiotic metronidazole IV, and diazepam. Severe tetanus calls for intensive care in a hospital setting. All sufferers of tetanus should receive a tetanus vaccine.