Tetanus

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is a severe bacterial infection that attacks the nervous system and causes muscles in the body to tighten. Tetanus is also known as lockjaw as the infection usually causes muscle contraction in the neck and jaw, after which it spreads to other parts of the body. It is a life-threatening infection without treatment. It is a medical emergency that requires urgent treatment in the hospital. 

Fortunately, using vaccines, we can prevent the spread of tetanus infection. The vaccine does not last forever, and booster shots are required every ten years to strengthen the immunity against the tetanus bacteria. Tetanus is a rare disease in countries that have adequate vaccination. 

Clostridium Tetani Bacteria

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Tetanus Causes

Bacteria, named Clostridium Tetani, is the leading cause for tetanus. The bacteria is commonly found in contaminated soil, and animal manure, but may tend to exist anywhere. When this bacterium enters the body, it rapidly multiplies and releases tetanospasmin, a neurotoxin. Tetanus symptoms are caused in the whole body when tetanospasmin enters the bloodstream and spreads. It interferes with the signals that travel from the brain to the nerves in the spinal cord. And from there to the muscles causing muscle spasm and stiffness.

The bacteria Clostridium Tetani enters the body through cuts in the skin or puncture wounds. Cleaning thoroughly on the injury can prevent the bacteria from entering and thereby developing an infection.

Some of the Common Ways by Which Tetanus Can Enter are:

  • Crush injuries

  • Puncture wounds

  • Wounds containing dead tissues

  • Burns

Some of the Rare but Possible Ways by Which you Can Contract Tetanus are:

  • Insect bites

  • Injections into muscles

  • Surgical procedures

  • Intravenous drug use

  • Dental infections

  • Superficial wounds

  • Compound fractures

Symptoms of Tetanus 

Usually, after 7 to 10 days after contracting the infection, symptoms start appearing. However, it can vary from 4 days to 3 weeks and may also take months in some cases. The incubation period is more extended when the site of injury is further from the central nervous system. 

Symptoms in muscles include stiffness and spasm. Usually, the stiffness starts with the chewing of muscles; hence it has got the name lockjaw. Further muscle spasm spreads to the throat and neck, causing the inability to swallow. Often patients have a seizure in the facial muscle. Difficulties in breathing may result in stiffness of chest and neck muscles. In some cases, limb and abdominal muscles are also affected.

In some severe cases, the spine arch backward as the muscles are affected. This symptom is more common in children affected by tetanus infection.

Here are some of the other symptoms an individual may get

  • Diarrhoea

  • Headache

  • Bloody stools

  • Touch sensitivity

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Sweating

  • Increased heartbeat

Treatment

It is imperative to clean the cut thoroughly to prevent infection. Only a medical practitioner should attend to a tetanus-prone wound immediately.

A wound that can likely develop tetanus is stated as:

  • A burn or wound that needs surgical intervention and is delayed for over 6 hours.

  • A sore that has a large amount of tissue removed

  • Puncture injury that has encounters soil or manure

  • Compound fractures where the bone is exposed to infection 

  • Burns or wounds in patients with systemic sepsis

Any patient that contracts a type of wound mentioned above must immediately receive tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG) even if they are vaccinated before. TIG contains antibodies that kill the bacteria Clostridium Tetani. The vaccination is given into the veins, which provides quick short-term protection against tetanus. It does not replace the long-term effects of the injection. TIG can be safely supplied to the expectant and breastfeeding mothers.

For the treatment of tetanus, doctors may prescribe metronidazole or penicillin. Patients allergic to these medicines are prescribed tetracycline. The antibodies prevent the bacteria from multiplying in the body and producing neurotoxin.

For the treatment of muscle stiffness and spasm patients may be given:

  • Anticonvulsants

  • Muscle relaxants

  • Neuromuscular blocking agents

Surgery

If the wound prone to tetanus is large, doctors may surgically remove the infected and damaged muscle through debridement. It is an act of removing contaminated and dead tissue.

Nutrition 

Due to increased muscle activity, a tetanus patient may require a high intake of calories daily.

Ventilator

Ventilator support may be required for some patients to help them breathe if the respiratory muscles and vocal cords are affected.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. How do you Contract Tetanus?

Tetanus is mainly caused by the bacteria Clostridium Tetani which enters the body through cuts and wounds and multiplies releasing a neurotoxin that affects the central nervous system. 

The bacteria are usually found in animal excreta and manure. Soil containing manure is likely to carry the bacteria in large numbers. A person injured in the ground or encounters the land can get tetanus if the bacteria succeed in entering the body through any means. It usually takes 7 to 10 days for the symptoms of tetanus to get detected by that time the bacteria multiply rapidly and enters the bloodstream.

2. Does Rust Cause Tetanus?

Tetanus is often connected with rust, most probably a rusty nail. The rust itself does not cause tetanus, but the object that acquires rust, which is usually found outdoors or in places that shelter anaerobic bacteria, causes tetanus. The rough surface of the metal that is rusted is a habitat for bacteria Clostridium Tetani. A rusty nail, when punctured deep inside the body, can cause immediate tetanus. Hence, stepping on a rusty nail may result in the tetanus infection as the oxygen environment under the skin is low. Often there is a misconception that rust is the only cause, and a puncture from the rust-free nail is not the cause.