How People Can Become Infected With Tetanus, And Warning Symptoms Of This Dangerous Infection

Date March 19, 2018

Tetanus is a serious, potentially life-threatening bacterial infection that manifests primarily in uncontrollable muscle contractions. The disease is commonly called "lockjaw" because it often affects muscles in the jaw and neck. Fortunately, the disease is rare in the developed world, but those who aren't vaccinated against it and those who haven't received a booster shot as recommended are at a higher risk of getting infected.

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Symptoms of tetanus

Symptoms of tetanus may start to develop within a few days to a few weeks after Clostridium tetani spores enter the body. The main symptoms of tetanus are muscle stiffness and cramping. These symptoms commonly affect the jaw, neck, chest, back, and abdominal muscles. Other symptoms may include the following:

Potential complications of tetanus

Complications that may arise from tetanus can be severe and include the following:

  • difficulty breathing caused by spasms of the vocal cords and muscles that control breathing;
  • pneumonia (lung infection);
  • pulmonary embolism (a blood clot blocking a major artery in the lungs);
  • arrhythmia;
  • bone fractures that may result from severe spasms;
  • brain damage caused by an insufficient oxygen supply to the brain.

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Treatment of tetanus

Treatment of tetanus should begin immediately after the diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, it may include the following:

  • tetanus vaccine (administered to everyone who is diagnosed);
  • treatment with the antitoxin - tetanus immune globulin (TIG);
  • antibiotics, e.g. penicillin;
  • muscle relaxants.

How do people become infected with tetanus?

Bacteria spores can get into the body in the following cases:

  • puncture wounds (such as stepping on a rusty nail, getting a tattoo or piercing with unsterile instruments, or injecting illicit drugs);
  • compound fractures (when the broken bone breaks the skin);
  • deep wounds contaminated with animal feces, soil, or saliva;
  • necrotic wounds;
  • burns;
  • crush injuries.

Other situations in which the infection is unlikely but may be possible include the following:

  • getting bitten by an animal or insect;
  • surgical wounds;
  • dental infections;
  • abscesses or ulcers on the foot;
  • splinters.

Cleveland Clinic cites a case in which a man developed a serious infection that required a stay in the ICU after getting a barely noticeable splinter when gardening.

Tetanus vaccine

Tetanus vaccine, which is usually administered in the first months of life, offers protection from tetanus and is usually given as a combined vaccine against tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), and diphtheria - (DTaP) vaccine.

You need to have booster shots, as the vaccine doesn't offer lifelong immunity. Adults need to get these shots every 10 years. Ask your doctor about the recommended schedule to receive booster shots to protect yourself from this dangerous infection.

Source: CDC, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, HealthLine

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This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.