Tetanus is a dangerous bacterial infection that attacksthe central nervous system (CNS) and causes muscles to tighten up. Theinfection usually causes muscle contractions in the jaw and neck region but caneventually spread throughout the body. If not promptly treated, the infectioncan be life-threatening.
Ten to twenty percent of patients infected withtetanus will die. Tetanus can be prevented through immunization, and in theU.S., it is given to children through the DTap shot. The DTap shot is athree-in-one shot that vaccinates children from diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus.
Sometime around a child’s eleventh birthday, they are supposed to get a boostershot, another dose of the vaccine, and adults should have a booster every tenyears. There are only around thirty U.S. cases a year. To help parentseasily have their children vaccinated, shots are often given free in publicschools. Clostridiumtetani is the bacteria that causes Tetanus. The bacteria can be found in dust,dirt, and animal feces.
These bacteria contain spores which are smallreproductive bodies produced by certain organisms. Open wounds allow thesespores to enter the bloodstream and cause infection. The bacteria then spreadsto the CNS and makes a toxin called tetanospasmin. This toxin blocks the nervesignals from your spinal cord to your muscles, and can lead to severe musclespasms.
The Tetanus bacteria is linked to and often caused by crush injuries,burns, puncture wounds, animal bites, and dental infections, situations thatallow bacteria to enter the skin. Tetanusaffects the nerves that control muscles, which can lead to difficultyswallowing. Patients can also experience spasms and stiffness in muscles, mostlikely those in the jaw, abdomen, chest, back, and neck. According to theCenter for Disease Control, other common Tetanus symptoms such as seizures, headache,fever and sweating, changes in blood pressure, and increased heart rate mayoccur. The time between exposure to the bacteria, and theillness actually taking effect, is between three and twenty one days.
Symptomsusually appear within fourteen days when the infection sets in. Infections thatdevelop more quickly following exposure are typically more severe and need moreextreme treatment. Yourheath-care professional will most likely perform a physical exam to check forsymptoms of tetanus, such as muscle stiffness and painful spasms. Lab tests arenot required to determine if a person has tetanus. However, your doctor maystill perform lab tests to help make sure the patient doesn’t have anotherdisease with similar symptoms, such as meningitis or rabies. Your doctor willalso check your immunization history and base his diagnosis from that.
You’reat a much higher risk of tetanus if you haven’t been immunized or if it’s timefor you to get your booster shot. The earlier the disease is diagnosed andtreatment begins, the better the chances of recovery. If a person has aninjury and suspects the possibility of tetanus, a doctor should be seenimmediately.
Treatment isdependent upon the extent of the patient’s symptoms. Tetanus is treated withmultiple types of therapies and medications. Healthcare professionals willclean the wound to eradicate the bacteria in the body. Physicians mayprescribe penicillin or metronidazole for treatment.
These antibiotics preventthe bacteria from spreading and producing the neurotoxin that causes muscles tospasm and stiffen. If apatient has difficulty swallowing and breathing, he/she may need a breathingtube, or ventilator, to assist with breathing. A tetanus vaccine is also givenalong with the treatment to reduce the chance of recurrence.
If the doctorthinks the infected wound is unusually large, he/she may surgically remove asmuch of the damaged and infected muscle as safely possible. Tetanus is a disease thatpeople should not risk. If an injured person suspects the possibility ofinfection and his/her booster shot is overdue, a doctor should be consultedimmediately. Prevention is key.
Children should be protected if they receivedtheir required shots on schedule, and adults should receive a booster every tenyears, or upon injury, just to be on the safe side.