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 with tetanuswill die. Tetanus can be prevented through immunization, and in the U.S., it isgiven to children through the DTap shot.
The DTap shot is a three-in-one shotthat vaccinates children from diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. Sometimearound a eleven-years-old, a child should get a booster shot, another dose ofthe vaccine, and adults should have a booster every ten years. There are onlyaround thirty U.S. cases a year. To help parents easily have their childrenvaccinated, shots are often given free in public schools. Clostridiumtetani is the bacteria that causes Tetanus. The bacteria can be found in dust,dirt, and animal feces.
Spores are small reproductive bodies produced bycertain organisms. Open wounds allow these spores to enter the bloodstream andcause infection. The bacteria then spreads to the CNS and makes a toxin calledtetanospasmin. This toxin blocks the nerve signals from your spinal cord toyour muscles, and can lead to severe muscle spasms. The tetanus bacteria is linkedto and often caused by crush injuries, burns, puncture wounds, animal bites,and dental infections, all circumstances that allow 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 heartrate may occur. Thetime between exposure to the bacteria, and the illness actually taking effect,is between three and twenty one days. Symptoms usually appear within fourteendays when the infection sets in. Infections that develop more quickly followingexposure are typically more severe and need more extreme 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 an injuryand suspects the possibility of tetanus, a doctor should be seen immediately. 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 may prescribe penicillin or metronidazole for treatment.These antibiotics prevent the bacteria from spreading and producing theneurotoxin that causes muscles to spasm and stiffen. If a patient hasdifficulty swallowing and breathing, he/she may need a breathing tube, orventilator, to assist with breathing. A tetanus vaccine is also given alongwith the treatment to reduce the chance of recurrence. If the doctor thinks the infected wound is unusually large, he/she maysurgically remove as much of the damaged and infected muscle as safelypossible.
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.