Tetanus, an infection also known as lockjaw, is characterised by severe muscle spasms.The spasms, which start showing 3-20 days after the onset of infection, can lasts for minutes minutes occur very frequently for 3-4 weeks and are sometimes strong enough to cause bone fractures. Caused by a bacteria named Clostridium Tetani, the other symptoms of a tetanus infection, which usually spreads through broken skin, include fever, headache, trouble swallowing, high blood pressure, and a fast heart rate. It is estimated that about 10% of those infected by Tetanus die.

Causes of Tetanus

Any person who gets cut by a contaminated object is at the risk of getting tetanus infection.

Clostridium Tetani, being anaerobic,thrive best in the absence of oxygen. They are commonly found in the lower intestines and produce spores that survive for years.

As the bacteria grow and multiply, they produce a nerve toxin that does the damage. The toxin binds to nerve endings that calm the muscles due to which the muscles contract and become rigid and sensitive to external inputs which lead to spasms.

Cut wounds, burns, surgical wounds, punctures with dirty needles and deep puncture wounds are prone to tetanus. Reuse of syringe is also a major reason.

Symptoms

Symptoms of tetanus may start showing anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks after the wound has been infected, but the typical incubation period (time between infection and symptoms) is 5 to 10 days.

Symptoms include:
  • Chills
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Headache
  • Irritability / restlessness
  • Neck and ha stiffness
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Stiff arms and legs
Additional symptoms:
  • Difficulty in opening the jaw
  • Muscle spasms in the back, neck, or abdomen
  • A person who has contracted tetanus infection can develop a fixed expression with a tight stretched smile or arched eyebrows.
  • They may sweat a lot when they experience spasms and are usually unable to speak due to spasm in the chest or throat which also causes difficulty in breathing
Associated complications:
  • Pneumonia
  • Broken bones
  • Skin sores
  • Muscle tear
  • Low blood pressure
Treatment
  • Vaccination
  • Antibiotics and tetanus immune globulin to control infection
  • Wound treatment
  • Medications to prevent muscle spasms
  • Supportive care
Prevention
  • Clean all wounds thoroughly by rinsing with clean water and washing with soap and water
  • If the wound is deep, dirty or caused by contaminated objects/ surfaces (eg. rusted nails, sharp and dirty objects, falling on the road etc.) see the doctor.
  • Wear knee and elbow pads during sports activities
  • Opt for vaccination