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What is Tetanus? Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and causes muscles throughout the body to tighten. It’s also called lockjaw because the infection often causes muscle contractions in the jaw and neck. However, it can eventually spread to other parts of the body. Tetanus infection can be life threatening without treatment. 10 to 20 percent of tetanus infections are fatal. Tetanus can be prevented by the Tetanus vaccine, that in the U.S., is given to children while they are receiving their DTap shot. The DTap shot is a three in one shot that vaccinates the child from Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus. When the kid turns 11, they are supposed to get a booster shot, giving them the vaccine again, and adults get it every 10 years. There is only around 30 U.S. cases a year.
Bacteria called Clostridium tetani causes Tetanus. Spores of the bacteria can be found in dust, dirt, and animal droppings. Spores are small reproductive bodies produced by certain organisms. They’re often resistant to harsh environmental conditions, such as high heat. A person can become infected when these spores enter the bloodstream through a cut or deep wound. The bacteria spores then spread to the central nervous system and produce a toxin called tetanospasmin. This toxin is a poison that blocks the nerve signals from your spinal cord to your muscles. This can lead to severe muscle spasms. The Tetanus infection has been associated with crush injuries, burns, puncture wounds, animal bites, and dental infections.
Tetanus affects the nerves that control your muscles, which can lead to difficulty swallowing. You may also experience spasms and stiffness in various muscles, especially those in your jaw, abdomen, chest, back, and neck. Other common Tetanus symptoms are fast heart rate, fever, sweating, and high blood pressure. The time between exposure to the bacteria and the onset of illness is between 3 and 21 days. Symptoms typically appear within 14 days of initial infection. Infections that occur faster after exposure are typically more severe and have a worse prognosis.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for symptoms of tetanus, such as muscle stiffness and painful spasms. Unlike many other diseases, tetanus is not generally diagnosed through laboratory tests. However, your doctor may still perform lab tests to help rule out diseases with similar symptoms. These include meningitis, a bacterial infection that affects the brain and spinal cord, or rabies, a viral infection that causes brain swelling. Your doctor will also base a tetanus diagnosis on your immunization history. You’re at a higher risk of tetanus if you haven’t been immunized or if you’re overdue for a booster shot. The earlier the diagnoses, predicts a better outcome.
Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms. Tetanus is typically treated with a variety of therapies and medications. They clean the wound to rid the body of the bacteria. Doctors may prescribe penicillin or metronidazole for tetanus treatment. These antibiotics prevent the bacteria from multiplying and producing the neurotoxin that causes muscle spasms and stiffness. If you have difficulty swallowing and breathing, you may need a breathing tube or ventilator. A Tetanus vaccine is also given along with the treatment to reduce the chance of getting it again. If the doctor thinks the tetanus prone wound is very large, they may surgically remove as much of the damaged and infected muscle as possible.
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