Tetanus in a newborn

Tetanus has been known since ancient times. Its symptoms were described in detail in the 5th century BC by the famous physician Hippocrates. Unfortunately, the topic of this infectious disease is relevant to this day, due to the fact that even now this disease can be fatal.

Its causative agent is a bacterium that can also infect a newborn baby, entering his body through the umbilical cord, therefore young parents need to familiarize themselves with the signs of tetanus and the measures to prevent this disease.

The cause of tetanus is a bacterium /bacillus/ that lives and reproduces only in the absence of oxygen.

The infectious organism causing this disease is stored in the environment in the form of spores – bacteria covered with a shell and resistant to the effects of chemical and physical factors.

In a humid environment, these latent forms of the infectious organism withstand heating up to 80 degrees Celsius for 6 hours, and at temperatures of 90 degrees – 2 hours.

In the dry state, the spores are even more resistant. The causative agent of tetanus forms a toxin, which refers to one of the strongest poisons.

How does the infection take place?

Any violation of the integrity of the skin or mucous membranes /wound from a wood chip, from a rusty nail, bruises, abrasions, etc./ can become the reason for the penetration of the bacteria in the human body.

The toxin formed in the wound enters the blood and spreads throughout the body, penetrating the central nervous system, causing muscle tension and spasms. Brain damage is one of the main factors that could lead to death from tetanus.

Immunity to the causative bacterium is built only after vaccination – it does not develop, even in those who have passed the disease.
The duration of the incubation period varies from 1 to several weeks, and sometimes months.

Most often, the first signs of the disease appear within 3 to 15 days after the injury or the birth of the child.

As already said, the umbilical cord serves as the entrance door for infection in newborns. The infection penetrates into it when people who do not have the necessary qualifications to assist in childbirth, violating the rules of asepsis and antiseptics.

The incidence of tetanus in newborns varies significantly – from 0 to 10%, but in Bulgaria it can occur in extremely rare cases.

According to the data of a number of scientists, the mortality rate in babies with an incubation period of up to 7 days is 67%, and when it is longer – up to 37%, if the children’s mothers are not vaccinated.

Transmission of passive immunity against tetanus to newborns from mothers immunized against this disease has been proven.

What are the symptoms?

The period of appearance of the first signs of the disease is not always pronounced. Its symptoms. Some parents note that before the appearance of the first signs of the disease, children become restless, suckle less than usual, develop constipation, their stomachs appear swollen.

The child’s cry acquires a shrill tone, and parents assume that something hurts, although they can see the real cause of the pain.

Treatment and prevention of tetanus in the newborn

The standard therapy that is applied in the proven presence of the bacteria causing tetanus is with high doses of hyperimmune human immunoglobulin, and when such cannot be provided, it is necessary the resort to antitoxic serum, also administered in high doses.

In addition, antibiotic therapy with beta-lactams is prescribed.

Another drug that is also used for certain indications in the identification of the bacillus causing tetanus is the tetanus toxoid.

In newborns, non-specific prophylaxis consists in observing special rules for asepsis and antiseptics when processing the umbilical cord.

However, the eradication of tetanus as an infection is impossible, due to the fact that there is a constantly active natural reservoir of the bacterium that causes this disease, which is difficult to influence.

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