Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. Rather than being spread from person to person like some bacterial infections, it is transmitted to people through things in the environment, like dust, soil and manure. Though they are present everywhere, the bacteria that cause tetanus won’t infect the body unless they are exposed to broken skin in the form of a wound or cut. People frequently get tetanus through a puncture wound, like stepping on a nail, or from a burn, cut or wound that gets contaminated with dirt, spit or feces.
Tetanus symptoms can be severe, and it is considered a medical emergency. The first sign is typically the tightening of the muscles in the jaw and mouth, known as lockjaw. Muscles can stiffen and tighten all over the body, and a person with tetanus can get a headache or have difficulty swallowing. High blood pressure, rapid heart rate, sweating, fever and seizures are other symptoms of tetanus. Without treatment, tetanus can lead to complications like broken bones, a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), pneumonia and severe breathing problems that sometimes end in death.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to prevent tetanus infection is to keep up to date on the vaccine. This is given as part of the regular course of childhood immunizations, and adults should get another injection, or booster, of the vaccine every 10 years. If you get a severe burn, cut or puncture wound, it’s a good idea to ask the doctor if a tetanus vaccine is needed before symptoms arise.
An active tetanus infection needs to be treated aggressively in a hospital setting. Human tetanus immune globulin (TIG) is the typical treatment, along with the tetanus vaccine. Treatment will likely also include antibiotics and medications to treat any muscle spasms and heal wounds.
SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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