What is tetanus? What causes tetanus?

Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection characterized by prolonged tightening of the muscles. Clostridium tetani bacteria cause this disease. This bacterium lives in the soil and in animal and human intestines. Immunization against tetanus is done through vaccination. There isn’t any cure for tetanus. Tetanus is a preventable non-contagious disease. Burns and puncture wounds caused by nails, splinters, or insect bites are particularly prone to tetanus infection. The nerve toxins produced when the tetanus bacteria multiply is the root cause of this fatal disease. This toxin hampers the interaction between the nerve and the muscle it regulates, resulting in prolonged muscle contraction or spasm. Infants born in unsanitary conditions are especially prone to this disease. If neglected, this disease may lead to death.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Symptoms of tetanus generally appear within 21 days after the infection. The common symptoms are,

  • Painful and prolonged tightening of the muscles
  • Locking of the jaw (trismus)
  • Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure

How is tetanus diagnosed?

Tetanus is often diagnosed based on the above mentioned symptoms.

Other diagnostic tests and procedures include,

  • Spatula test: During this test the patient’s response is noted, while placing a soft-tipped instrument near the pharyngeal area. Tetanus is suspected if it causes involuntary contraction of the jaw.
  • Clinical observations followed by a thorough evaluation of medical and tetanus immunization history.

How is tetanus treated?

Treatment options for tetanus include neutralization of the effects of the toxins produced by clostridium bacteria. This is done through anti toxin drugs. Powerful sedatives are often prescribed to treat the muscle spasms. Doctors also prescribe a course of antibiotics to kill tetanus bacteria.

Is there any way to prevent tetanus?

Tetanus can only be prevented through proper immunization. So,

  • Immunize against tetanus!
  • DTaP vaccination is required for children under seven. This is a combination vaccine against three deadly diseases- diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Make sure that you receive timely booster shots of Td vaccine. This combined vaccine against tetanus and diphtheria should be taken every ten years.  
  • Seek immediate medical attention after an injury that has the potential to cause tetanus.