Tetanus is a bacterial disease caused by the Clostidium tetani bacteria. These bacteria produce toxin in the body, which adversely affects the nerves controlling muscle activity. If the infection progresses and muscle spasms develop in the jaw, it locks the jaw. Therefore, this disease is also commonly known as ‘lockjaw’.

Generally, these bacteria enter the human body through a cut or deep injury. There are certain injuries that increase the risk of a tetanus infection, for example, injuries like burns, gangrene, frostbite, or crush injuries. If wounds come in contact with soil, saliva, or faeces and are not properly cleaned, they may also cause tetanus. Once these bacteria enter the body through one way or the other, they start producing a toxin – tetanospasmin. The toxin gets circulated through the bloodstream and blocks nerve signals between the brain and the spinal cord, causing severe muscle spasms known as tetanus.

The onset of symptoms may start after 3-21 days of an infection by the bacteria. Initially, the bacteria may cause fever and headache, and later, they will cause stiffness in the jaw muscles. As the infection progresses further, the stiffness may also be felt in the arms, neck and back. If the infection is still left untreated, the muscle spasms may become painful. In fact, the bacteria may also affect the muscles of the chest or the throat, and the patient may have trouble in breathing.

The treatment should be started as soon as possible so that it starts producing positive results at the earliest. Antibiotics like penicillin, erythromycin, clindamycin and metronidazole are given, as they provide resistance against the bacteria. Antitoxins are also given to the patient to combat the toxin. Sedatives also speed up the recovery process, therefore, the treatment may include the use of sedatives as well. The patient may have trouble in breathing, therefore, breathing support may be necessary. With prompt medical aide, tetanus can be completely cured. However, in case of an intense infection and delayed treatment, the illness can be fatal.

Tetanus can be prevented through:

  • Vaccination
  • Cleaning the wound and treating it with antiseptic

If injury is deep and contaminated with soil, one should see a doctor immediately. The doctor will examine the wound and determine whether the person is likely to develop such an infection or not. If there is a possibility of such an infection, he will start necessary treatment and prevent tetanus. Full schedule of tetanus vaccination provides immunisation against these bacteria for life, however, booster doses can help one build a stronger immune system against tetanus.

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