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Symptoms of Tetanus: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention, and Risk


Tetanus is also known as “lockjaw,” is a serious bacterial infection. The bacteria produce a toxin that attacks the nervous system and brain. The disease leads to painful muscle stiffness. Tetanus infection can interfere with the ability to breathe and can be life-threatening.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection which is caused by bacteria Clostridium tetani. Spores of the bacteria can be present in soil, dust, dirt, and animal droppings. Spores are small reproductive bodies produced by some micro-organisms. They are often resistant to harsh environments such as temperature.

Anyone can become infected when these spores enter the bloodstream through a cut or deep wound. The bacteria spores then multiply and spread to the central nervous system and produce a toxin known as tetanospasmin. This toxin acts as a poison that blocks the nerve signals from the spinal cord to the muscles. This can lead to severe muscle spasms.

Tetanus infection has been associated with:

  • Crush injuries

  • Injuries with dead tissue

  • Burns

  • Puncture wounds from piercings or tattoos

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, feces, or saliva

Tetanus does not spread from an infected person to another person. The infection occurs globally but is more common in hot areas, moist climates with rich soil. These environmental conditions are favorable for Clostridium tetani.  It’s also more common in densely populated areas.


Symptoms of Tetanus

Tetanus symptoms usually appear about 7 to 10 days after the initial infection. However, this can vary from 4 days to about 3 weeks, and may take months in some cases.4

Common signs and symptoms of tetanus include:

  • Spasms and stiffness in the jaw muscles

  • Stiffness of neck muscles

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Stiffness of the abdominal muscles

  • Painful body spasms (triggered by minor occurrences, such as loud noise, any kind of physical touch, or light)

Few other signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Sweating

  • Elevated blood pressure

  • Rapid heart rate


Risk Factors of Tetanus

The following risk factors increase the likelihood of getting tetanus:

  • Failure to get tetanus vaccinated or to keep up to date with its booster shots.

  • An injury that lets tetanus spores enters into the wound.

  • A foreign object such as a splinter or nail.

Tetanus cases may be developed from the following:

  • Puncture wounds from splinters, body piercings, tattoos, and injection drugs

  • Gunshot injury

  • Compound fractures

  • Burns

  • Surgical wounds

  • Injection drug use

  • Animal or insect bites

  • Infected foot ulcers

  • Dental infections

  • Infected umbilical stumps in new-borns born from infected mothers


Complications of Tetanus

Once tetanus toxin has attached to the nerve endings, it may be impossible to remove it. Complete recovery from tetanus can take up to several months as it requires new nerve endings to grow.

Complications of tetanus infection may include:

  • Broken Bones- – The spasms are so severe that they may cause the spine and other bones to break.

  • Blockage of a Lung Artery (Pulmonary Embolism)m – A blood clot that has traveled from elsewhere in the body can block the main artery of the lung.

  • Death – Severe tetanus-induced (tetanic) muscle spasms can interfere with or stop the breathing process. Respiratory failure is one of the most common causes of death. Lack of oxygen may also cause cardiac arrest and lead to death.


How Tetanus is Diagnosed

The doctor will perform a physical exam to check for symptoms of tetanus. Unlike many other illnesses, tetanus is not generally diagnosed through laboratory tests. However, the healthcare provider may still perform lab tests to help rule out diseases with similar symptoms. The doctor will also base a tetanus diagnosis on an immunization history. People are at a higher risk of tetanus if they have not been immunized or if they are overdue for a booster shot.


Prevention of Tetanus

Most tetanus infection occurs in those people who have never had the vaccination against tetanus or who did not have a booster shot within the previous decade.

Vaccination – The tetanus vaccine is routinely given to children as part of diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) shot.

The DTaP vaccine consists of five shots, given in the arm or thigh of children.

Puncture wounds or other deep cuts or animal bites increases the risk of tetanus infection. An individual should get medical attention if the wound is deep and dirty, particularly if the person is unsure about the last vaccination. The doctor may need to clean the wound, prescribe an antibiotic, or give a booster shot of the tetanus toxoid vaccine. If the infected person is previously vaccinated, the person’s body should quickly make the required antibodies to protect against tetanus.


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Data Sources:

  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tetanus/symptoms-causes/syc-20351625

  • https://www.healthline.com/health/tetanus#outlook




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Tetanus: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Risk
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Tetanus: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Risk
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Read tetanus symptoms, diagnosis, prevention and risk. It's essential to clean the wound to prevent the growth of tetanus spores. Vaccination can prevent tetanus infections, but only if you receive you... Proper treatment and cleaning of wounds can also help prevent the infection.
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