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Tetanus

Definition

Tetanus is caused by a bacterial infection. A toxin from the infection affects the nervous system. It can lead to severe muscle spasms. Such spasms lead to lockjaw. This spasm makes it impossible to open or close the mouth. Tetanus can be fatal.

Nervous System
CNS and PNS
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Causes

Tetanus bacteria are found in soil, dust, or manure. It enters your body through a break in the skin.

When it is in your body, the bacteria create a toxin. This toxin causes tetanus.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of tetanus include:

  • Lack of tetanus vaccination or regular booster shots—or not updating tetanus vaccination in timely manner
  • IV drug use
  • Skin sores or wounds
  • Burns
  • Exposure of open wounds to soil or animal feces

Symptoms

Symptoms of tetanus may include:

  • Headache
  • Stiff jaw muscles or neck muscles
  • Drooling or trouble swallowing
  • Muscle spasticity or rigidity
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Pain or tingling at a wound site
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart beat that is too fast or too slow

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is mainly based on the medical history.

Your doctor may test the wound. A culture will grow the bacteria causing the infection. Culture results are not always accurate for tetanus.

Treatment

Treatment may include:

  • Hospitalization—to manage complications of the infection
  • Opening and cleaning the wound—entire wounded area may need to be surgically removed
  • Antibiotics
  • Tetanus immune globulin—antibodies against tetanus that help neutralize the tetanus toxin
  • A tetanus shot—if your tetanus vaccine is not up to date
  • Medication to treat symptoms—may include antiseizure medication or muscle relaxants

Tetanus can cause severe problems with breathing or swallowing. A breathing tube may be inserted in the throat. This will help keep the airway open until you heal. A surgical procedure called a tracheotomy may be done. This will provide an open airway if your upper airway cannot be accessed.

Prevention

The best means of prevention is immunization. The immunization schedule for tetanus is as follows:

  • All children, with few exceptions should receive the, DTaP vaccine series. This protects against diphtheria , tetanus, and pertussis .
  • A single dose of Tdap vaccine is recommended for children aged 11 years or older, even if they did not receive the DTaP.
  • Adults should receive a booster dose of the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td) every 10 years. They may also receive this vaccine after an exposure to tetanus. It is not harmful to receive a tetanus vaccination earlier than 10 years.

If you or your child has not been fully vaccinated, talk to the doctor. There are catch-up schedules available.

In addition to the vaccine, you can prevent tetanus by taking proper care of wounds:

  • Promptly clean all wounds.
  • See your doctor for medical care of wounds.

Revision Information

  • National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

    http://www.nfid.org

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

    http://www.niaid.nih.gov

  • Caring for Kids

    http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca

  • The College of Family Physicians of Canada

    http://www.cfpc.ca

  • Recommended adult immunization schedule—United States, 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62:9-18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/adult/mmwr-adult-schedule.pdf . Accessed August 8, 2013.

  • Recommended immunization schedule for persons aged 0 through 18 years—United States 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62:2-8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/mmwr-0-18yrs-catchup-schedule.pdf . Accessed August 8, 2013.

  • Tetanus (lockjaw) vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/tetanus/default.htm . Updated February 7, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2013.

  • 1/31/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years—United States, 2008. MMWR. 2008;57;Q1-Q4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5701a8.htm . Updated January 10, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2008.

  • 1/24/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (tdap) vaccine from the advisory committee on immunization practices, 2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(1):13-15.

  • 11/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) in pregnant women and persons who have or anticipate having close contact with an infant aged <12 months—Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60:1424-1426.

  • 4/1/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Bridges CB, Coyne-Beasley T, et al. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older—United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014. 63(7):110-112.