What is tetanus?

Tetanus is an infectious disease that is caused by contamination of wounds with the bacteria Clostridiumtetani or the spores they produce, which are found in the soil and animal feces.

The causative bacterium is a hardy organism capable of living in the soil for many years in a form called a spore. Tetanus usually develops when a wound becomes contaminated with the bacterial spores of Clostridium tetani.

Infection begins when the spores become activated and develop into gram-positive bacteria that multiply and produce a very powerful tetanus toxin that affects the muscles.

Spores of the causative bacterium are found everywhere in the environment, usually in soil, dust and animal excrement.

The usual places where the spores enter the body are puncture wounds such as those caused by rusty nails, wood chips or even insect bites.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

The most characteristic sign of the disease is muscle stiffness and spasms. Usually the incubation period is 7 days and can vary from a minimum of 4 to a maximum of 14 days. The shorter the incubation period, the more pronounced the symptoms.

The first symptoms of tetanus are often subtle and may include:

  • Irritability: Affected individuals may become irritable and uncomfortable due to the effects of toxins on the nervous system.
  • Muscle Cramps: Muscle Cramps develop and can manifest as muscle tension and pain. They deepen over time and become more intense.
  • Muscle pains: The affected muscles tighten continuously, causing intense pain.
  • Fatigue: Tetanus can lead to high levels of exhaustion and fatigue as muscle spasms require significant energy resources.
  • Difficulty swallowing: Due to muscle spasms in throat and pharynx, patients may have difficulty swallowing solid and liquid foods.

The condition of tetanus worsens over time and the muscle spasms can become really severe.

The first muscle problems often affect the facial muscles, and the result can be trismus, which is a condition where spasms of the jaw muscles close the sufferer’s mouth and prevent them from opening it.

A sardonic smile is also a typical symptom, and sufferers may appear to smile involuntarily due to facial muscle spasms.

Muscle spasms become stronger over time and can even cause bone fractures and joint dislocations due to the intense force they exert on the body’s skeletal system.

In more severe cases, the spasms can affect the respiratory muscles and vocal cords, which can lead to impaired respiratory function and loss of voice.

In such cases, it is urgent to seek medical attention, as tetanus can be fatal.

Tetanus treatment

  • Any wound that breaks the skin should be cleaned with soap and running water.
  • < strong>All open wounds are at high risk of developing the disease. When the wound is caused by an object that is in the open, the risk of tetanus is even higher, as it is almost certain that the spores of the causative bacteria are present in the wound.
  • Apply a clean, dry cloth to the wound to stop or reduce bleeding.
  • After washing your hands and placing a cloth over the wound, press it with your finger to limit the loss of blood.

Treatment has two goals: to limit the growth of the causative bacteria and then to destroy and thereby eliminate the released toxins. The second goal is to neutralize the already formed toxin.

Treatment is staged and consists of:

  • Antibiotic therapy such as metronidazole, doxycycline, benzylpenicillin, etc. to kill the bacteria and an antitoxin called tetanus immunoglobulin to neutralize the toxin.
  • Irrigate the wound to remove any obvious bacterial abscesses or foreign bodies from it. If the patient does not show any symptoms related to the action of the toxin, the antitoxin is administered first and a few hours later the wound is washed, since washing infected wounds causes additional release of toxins.
  • Pain relievers if needed;
  • Sedatives such as diazepam to control muscle spasms;
  • Put on command breathing in case of spasms of respiratory muscles or vocal cords;
  • Intravenous rehydration, because due to muscle spasms the body’s need for fluids increases.

How to protect yourself?

Prevention of tetanus is essential as this infectious disease can be serious and even fatal.

  • Vaccination: The most effective way to protect against tetanus is to get vaccinated. The tetanus vaccine is given through a series of injections and must be renewed periodically, usually every 10 years. If you are injured and have not updated your vaccinations, it is important to update them as soon as possible after the accident.
  • Wound Care: With any injury or cut to the skin, it is important to clean the wound with warm soapy water and then treat it with an antiseptic. Keep wounds clean and dry and watch for signs of infection.
  • Special care for nature injuries: If you are outdoors and get injured on the ground or bitten by an animal, you should especially wash and treat the wound carefully because the bacterium Clostridium tetani that causes tetanus is found in soil and animal feces.

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