Tetanus is a serious bacterial disease which affects nervous system and causes painful muscle contractions in the muscles of your neck and jaw. It is often called lockjaw. The disease interferes with your ability to breathe. But, thanks to the vaccine for tetanus, there are very few cases of tetanus in the world. Nonetheless, the disease is a threat to those who have not got the vaccine or don’t get it when required. Tetanus is more common in developing countries in the world. The disease has no cure and needs to be treated until the complications are managed and the effects of toxins are resolved. Tetanus is caused by bacteria known as Clostridium tetani. Spores of the bacteria can be found in dust, soil and animal faeces. When the bacteria enter a deep flesh wound, the spores grow into bacteria which can produce tetanospasmin, a powerful toxin which can adversely impact the nervous system which controls your muscles. This toxin is capable of causing muscle stiffness and spasms, which are a major sign of tetanus. Most cases of tetanus happen only in people who have never been vaccinated or adults who haven’t been able to keep up with their 10-year booster injections. Tetanus can also be caught from a person who has it.
Symptoms of tetanus
Symptoms of tetanus begin to appear after a few days or some weeks after the tetanus bacteria entered your body through a wound. On an average, the incubation period of tetanus is around 7 to 10 days. Some common signs and symptoms of tetanus include spasms or lockjaw, difficult in swallowing, stiffness in your abdominal muscles, painful body spasms which can last for several minutes and are triggered by loud noises, light or physical touch.
Other common symptoms of tetanus include sweating, fever, high blood pressure and rapid heart rate.
Risk factors for tetanus
People who do not get tetanus vaccine or are unable to keep up to date with booster shots are more prone to risks of tetanus. If you have an injury or a wound which allows tetanus spores into the wound can also be a risk factor. Any foreign body such as a nail or splinter can increase risks of tetanus. Dental infections, infected foot ulcers, animal bites or insect bites, gunshot wounds, puncture wounds including the ones caused from body piercings, splinters, injection drugs and tattoos, surgical wounds, burns, use of drug injections and infected umbilical stumps in newborns of mothers who haven’t been immunised properly are other risks factors of tetanus.
In case a tetanus toxin has bound with your nerve endings, it is impossible to remove it from there. In order to recover completely from tetanus, you might require regrowth of nerve endings, which can take upto several months. Broken bones, blockage of lung arteries and death in severe cases are the complications of tetanus.
Extremely sever spasms can cause breakage of spine and other bones. Blood clots that have travelled from different places in the body can cause blockage in the main artery of the lungs or ones of it branches.
Death caused because of tetanus is only in rare and severe cases. Severe muscle spasms tend to interfere with your breathing. Respiratory failure as a result of muscle spasms are the leading causes of death because of tetanus. Lack of oxygen can lead to cardiac arrest which ends up in death.
Prevention of tetanus
As part of the primary vaccine series for tetanus, children are given the diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. This vaccination protects from diseases like respiratory and throat infections (diphtheria), whooping cough (pertussis) and tetanus. This vaccine is given in a series of 5 shots at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years.
Thereafter, a booster of tetanus vaccine is given in combination with booster of diphtheria vaccine (Td). Adolescents can get Tdap vaccines between ages 11 and 12, and a Td booster after every 10 years after that. In case you have not received a Tdap dose, you can substitute it with your next Td booster and continue with Td boosters in the usual way.
Talk to your doctor and stay up to date with your vaccinations.