What Is Tetanus?
Tetanus can be a fatal disease of the central nervous system caused by a poison made by the tetanus bacterium that enters the body through an open wound. Tetanus bacteria live in soil and manure; they can also be found in the human intestine and other places.
What Causes Tetanus?
Tetanus is caused by the toxin of the bacterium clostridium tetani; it is not spread from person to person. Tetanus occurs in people who have had a skin or deep tissue wound or puncture.
What Are the Symptoms Tetanus?
The most common tetanus symptoms are:
- Stiff jaw, also called lockjaw
- Stiff abdominal and back muscles
- Contraction of the facial muscles
- Fast pulse
- Painful muscle spasms, especially near the wound area; if these affect the throat or chest wall, breathing may be stopped
- Trouble swallowing
Note: Tetanus symptoms may look like other medical conditions. Always consult your physicians for a diagnosis.
How Is Tetanus Diagnosed?
Diagnosing tetanus is based on a complete history and physical exam.
How Is Tetanus Treated?
Your physician will determine your specific treatment for tetanus based on:
- How old you are
- Your overall health and medical history
- How sick you are
- How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures or therapies
- How long the tetanus condition is expected to last
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment for tetanus, or to reduce the risk of tetanus after an injury, may include:
- Medicines to control spasms
- Thorough cleaning of the wound
- A course of tetanus antitoxin injections
- Use of a ventilator, or breathing machine, if you have trouble breathing on your own
- Other medicines to control pain and other symptoms, such as a fast heartbeat
What Are the Complications of Tetanus?
- Vocal cord spasms
- Broken bones due to severe muscle spasms
- Breathing problems
- High blood pressure or abnormal heart rhythms
- Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung)
Can Tetanus Be Prevented?
A DTaP shot is a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). Adults should get a Td booster every 10 years, but it can be given before the 10-year mark. Always ask your physician for advice about how to avoid and treat tetanus.