Tetanus Or Lockjaw: This Is How Tetanus Bacteria Get Into Your Body

Tetanus, commonly known as lockjaw, is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani, and affects the nervous system. It is a serious disease that can cause muscle contractions, particularly the muscles of the jaw and neck, and even death in severe cases. You can prevent tetanus but if you’re infected, there’s no cure. Available treatments focus on managing symptoms and reducing the complications. Tetanus is more common in low-income countries, where vaccination coverage is low. Read on to know how tetanus bacteria get into your body and what you can do to prevent this bacterial infection.

How people get tetanus

Spores of Clostridium tetani are found everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust, and feces of animals and humans, and they can survive for years. These spores can get into your body through breaks in the skin, caused burns, injuries, surgical wounds, insect bites, chronic sores and infections.

Symptoms of tetanus  

Signs and symptoms usually appear between 3 and 21 days from the time you have been infected. Generalized tetanus, which is the most common type of tetanus, can cause:

Painful muscle spasms and rigidity in your jaw and neck muscles
Muscle tension around your lips
Difficulty swallowing
Muscle spasms in the back, abdomen and extremities
Breathing difficulties
Painful, seizure-like spasms often triggered by a loud sound

As the disease progresses, one may also experience high blood pressure or low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, fever and extreme sweating.

Localized tetanus and cephalic tetanus are other two uncommon form of tetanus. These can progress to generalized tetanus.

Tetanus can be fatal. If you have the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, see a doctor.

Tetanus in newborn babies and pregnant women

Tetanus is more common and serious in newborn babies (neonatal tetanus) and pregnant women (maternal tetanus). Unhygienic deliveries, use of nonsterile instruments for cutting the umbilical cord or contaminated material to cover the umbilical stump may lead to neonatal tetanus.

Symptoms of neonatal tetanus include muscle spasms, inability to suck or breastfeed, and excessive crying.

Tetanus can be prevented

Getting tetanus-toxoid-containing vaccines (TTCV) can protect you against tetanus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, an individual should receive 6 doses of TTCV (3 primary plus 3 booster doses).

The primary doses are given as early as 6 weeks of age, and subsequent doses are administered with a minimum gap of 4 weeks between doses. The 3 booster doses are recommended during the second year of life (12–23 months), at 4–7 years of age, and at 9–15 years of age, keeping a gap of at least 4 years between booster doses.

Tetanus vaccines are usually combined with vaccines for other diseases: Diphtheria and tetanus (DT) vaccines; Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) (DTaP) vaccines; Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccines; Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccines.

To prevent neonatal tetanus, WHO recommends immunizing women of reproductive age with TTCV, either during pregnancy or outside of pregnancy.

If you have recovered from tetanus, you can get infected again. Hence it is important to stay up to date on your vaccinations.



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