What is tetanus?

Fact Checked

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that is considered serious since it primarily affects the nervous system and causes the muscles all over the body to tighten. The condition is commonly known as lockjaw since the infection mainly causes muscle contractions in the jaw and neck area, but can also spread to other body parts. If tetanus is left untreated, it can be life-threatening.

Luckily, tetanus can be prevented through the use of a vaccine. Nevertheless, the vaccine will not last which is why booster shots are required every 10 years to guarantee lasting immunity. Due to the availability of the vaccine, tetanus is rare in major countries. On the other hand, it is still rampant in countries that do not have well-established immunization programs.

Causes of tetanus

Tetanus is caused by the bacteria known as Clostridium tetani that is present in dirt, dust and animal droppings. An individual can become infected once the bacteria enter the bloodstream via a deep wound or cut. Take note that tetanus infections are also linked with burns, animal bites, and dental infections and puncture wounds from tattoos and piercings.

Symptoms of tetanus

Muscle spasm and stiffness is one of the symptoms of tetanus.

The condition typically affects the nerves responsible for controlling the muscles thus leading to swallowing difficulties along with spasm and stiffness on muscles especially on the jaw, chest, abdomen, neck and back.

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Elevated blood pressure

The symptoms usually manifest within 8 days of the initial infection.

Diagnosing tetanus

Always bear in mind that tetanus is not diagnosed using laboratory tests. Nevertheless, your doctor can carry out laboratory tests to rule out other diseases that have similar symptoms.

A physical examination will be performed to check for the symptoms such as painful spasms and muscle stiffness. By basing on your immunization history, if you have not been immunized against tetanus or overdue for a booster shot, you are at higher risk for tetanus.

Treatment for tetanus

The appropriate treatment for tetanus depends on the severity of the symptoms. The condition is typically treated with various medications and therapies.

  • A first aid measure is to clean the wound to eliminate any source of the bacteria. In others cases, debridement is performed to take away dead or diseased tissue.
  • Antibiotics especially penicillin are prescribed to eliminate the bacteria in the body.
  • Muscle relaxants are provided to control the muscle spasms.
  • Tetanus immune globulin is given to counteract the toxins produced by the bacteria in the body.

Outlook for individuals with tetanus

As long as early treatment is provided, the condition is not lethal. If left untreated, it can lead to severe muscle spasms that can cause serious health complications such as pneumonia, breathing problems, bone fractures and brain damage. Once you suspect that an individual has tetanus, go to a doctor or directly to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.

How to prevent tetanus

The best way to prevent tetanus is through vaccination. Just make sure that you will receive the booster shots on time.

Was this post helpful?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top

  • All stmarkjamestraining.ca content is reviewed by a medical professional and / sourced to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

  • We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable websites, academic research institutions and medical articles.

  • If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact us through our contact us page.

The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
If you need medical advice or help with a diagnosis contact a medical professional