TETANUS

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What is it?

Tetanus is an infection of the nervous system caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani (C. tetani). Spores of C. tetani live in soil, dust, and manure and can enter the body through breaks in the skin from puncture wounds, lacerations, etc. Once in the body, the spores release bacteria that produce a toxin. The toxin causes painful muscular contractions and rigidity, usually within 7 to 21 days of infection. Tetanus infection is also called lockjaw because the muscle rigidity can be so severe that the jaw becomes tightly closed.

Populations at high risk for tetanus include those with an acute injury who were:

  • Inadequately vaccinated or with unknown vaccination history
  • Adults aged ≥ 60 years
  • Adult diabetics
  • Injection-drug users

How can you get it?

C. tetani in the environment may enter the body through a break in the skin. Contact with soil, dust, and animal or human feces can all result in exposure. Tetanus does not spread by person to person contact.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of tetanus may include:

  • Stiffness in the neck and abdomen from muscle spasms
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Painful contractions of muscle groups (tetany)
  • Lockjaw
  • Drooling
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Uncontrolled urination or defecation

Tetanus can be fatal if left untreated. Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) caused by spasms in the throat or lung muscles may lead to irreversible brain damage.

How do you prevent it?

Immunization is the key to tetanus prevention. A booster shot of Td vaccine should be given every 10 years.

What should you do if you believe you have been exposed to Tetanus?

High risk wounds include those that:

  • occurred outdoors
  • had contact with soil
  • occurred in an individual who has not received a tetanus booster (vaccine) within 5 years or is not sure of his/her vaccination status

A fire fighter or other emergency response personnel who has received a wound should:

  • Cleanse the wound immediately
  • Report the exposure it as soon as possible to the infection control officer and/or medical director and see a healthcare provider

An examining health care provider must determine the time since the individual’s last immunization. If the fire fighter sustained a significant or contaminated wound, he or she should receive an additional booster shot, if a tetanus toxiod shot has not been received within 5 years prior to the injury.

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