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What is Tetanus?

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What is Tetanus? Tetanus is a dangerous bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and causes muscles throughout the body to tighten up. The infection usually causes muscle contractions in the jaw and neck region. However, it can eventually spread to other parts of the body. Tetanus infection can be life threatening without treatment. ten to twenty 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 eleven, they are suppose to get a booster shot, giving them the vaccine again, and adults get it every ten years. There is only around thirty U.S. cases a year.

What causes it? Clostridium tetani is the bacteria that causes Tetanus. The bacteria can mostly be found in dust, dirt, and animal droppings. Spores are small reproductive bodies produced by certain organisms. They are often resistant to harsh environments, such as high heat. A person can become infected when these spores enter the bloodstream through an open wound. The bacteria then spreads to the CNS and makes a toxin called tetanospasmin. This toxin blocks the nerve signals from your spinal cord to your muscles, and can lead to severe muscle spasms. The Tetanus infection has been associated with crush injuries, burns, puncture wounds, animal bites, and dental infections.

What are the symptoms? Tetanus affects the nerves that control your muscles, which can lead to difficulty swallowing. You can also experience spasms and stiffness in muscles, most likely those in your jaw, abdomen, chest, back, and neck. Some other common Tetanus symptoms are fast heart rate, fever, sweating, and high blood pressure. The time between being exposed to the bacteria, and the illness actually taking effect, is between three and twenty one days. Symptoms usually appear within fourteen days when the infection sets in. Infections that occur faster after exposure are typically more severe and need more extreme treatment.

How is it diagnosed? Your doctor will most likely perform a physical exam to check for symptoms of tetanus, such as muscle stiffness and painful spasms. Unlike many other diseases, tetanus is usually not diagnosed through laboratory testing. But your doctor may still perform lab tests to help make sure you have no other diseases with similar symptoms. These diseases are meningitis, a bacterial infection that damages the brain and spinal cord, or rabies, a viral infection that causes the brain to swell up. Your doctor will also check your immunization history and base his diagnosis off of that. You’re at a much higher risk of tetanus if you haven’t been immunized or if it’s time for you to get your booster shot. The earlier the diagnoses, most of the time has a better outcome.

How is it treated? Treatment depends on how bad your symptoms are. Tetanus is usually treated with multiple types of therapies and medications. They will clean the wound to get rid of the bacteria in the body. 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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