What causes tetanus?
Tetanus is caused by a toxin (poison) produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The C. tetani bacteria cannot grow in the presence of oxygen. They produce spores that are very difficult to kill as they are resistant to heat and many chemical agents.
How does tetanus spread?
C. tetani spores can be found in the soil and in the intestines and feces of many household and farm animals and humans. The bacteria usually enter the human body through a puncture (in the presence of anaerobic [low oxygen] conditions, the spores will germinate).
Tetanus is not spread from person to person.
How long does it take to show signs of tetanus after being exposed?
The incubation period varies from 3–21 days, with an average of eight days. The further the injury site is from the central nervous system, the longer the incubation period. The shorter the incubation period, the higher the risk of death.
What are the symptoms of tetanus?
The symptoms of tetanus are caused by the tetanus toxin acting on the central nervous system. In the most common form of tetanus, the first sign is spasm of the jaw muscles, followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty in swallowing, and stiffness of the abdominal muscles. Other signs include fever, sweating, elevated blood pressure, and rapid heart rate. Spasms often occur, which may last for several minutes and continue for 3–4 weeks. Complete recovery, if it occurs, may take months.
How serious is tetanus?
Tetanus has a high fatality rate. In recent years, tetanus has been fatal in about 10% of reported cases.
What are possible complications from tetanus?
Laryngospasm (spasm of the vocal cords) is a complication that can lead to interference with breathing. Patients can also break their spine or long bones from convulsions. Other possible complications include hypertension, abnormal heart rhythm, and secondary infections, which are common because of prolonged hospital stays. Obviously, the high probability of death is a major complication.
How is tetanus diagnosed?
The diagnosis of tetanus is based on the clinical signs and symptoms only. Laboratory diagnosis is not useful as the C. tetani bacteria usually cannot be recovered from the wound of an individual who has tetanus, and conversely, can be isolated from the skin of an individual who does not have tetanus.