Tetanus is an infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which lives in soil and in animal and human intestines. This bacteria get into a cut or a wound, multiply there and produce a toxin or a poisonous substance, which affects the nervous system the brain, nerves and the spinal cord. This toxin interferes with the working of the nerves that control the muscles and makes them stiff. The most common symptom is stiffness of the jaw, which is why tetanus is also known as lockjaw. It can be a serious condition in some cases, especially in young children and old adults and can lead to death.
What are the causes?
This infection is more common in unhygienic surroundings and the risk of tetanus increases with deep wounds infected by dirt and faeces.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom is stiffness of the jaw, commonly known as lockjaw. This makes it difficult to open the mouth and swallow. Other symptoms include pain at the wound site, muscle rigidity and pain, stiffness of the stomach and back muscles and contraction of the facial muscles. Sometimes, there may also be a fast pulse, slight fever, and severe sweating. Eventually painful muscle spasms develop, which may affect the chest and airways, and the patient may feel suffocated.
How is it diagnosed?
Doctors usually diagnose tetanus based on the symptoms and a physical examination.
What is the treatment?
Treatment generally begins with a thorough cleaning of the wound. The doctor may prescribe an antibiotic such as penicillin, tetracycline, or metronidazole for infection and a series of tetanus antitoxin injections.
In rare cases, when symptoms are severe, treatment may include taking a muscle relaxant to relieve pain and spasm. Physical therapy may help to prevent muscle contractures, a permanent shortening or tightening of muscles.
How can it be prevented?
Tetanus can be prevented with a vaccine. This vaccine is usually given as a series of injections that are combined with diphtheria and pertussis vaccine. The combination vaccine DPT is initially given in early childhood. Booster shots are given every 5 to 10 years to maintain immunity. In case of a person who has never been immunized or has not had a complete series of injections, tetanus immune globulin may be given to prevent the disease in very dirty wounds.