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Nervous System  
CNS and PNS

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Definition  

Tetanus (also known as lockjaw) is an infection marked by prolonged muscle spasms. The infection is a toxin affects the nervous system. It can be fatal if left untreated.

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Causes  

Tetanus caused by a specific bacterium found in soil, dust, or manure. It enters your body through a break in the skin.

When it is in your body, the bacteria create a toxin. This toxin causes tetanus.

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Risk Factors  

Factors that may increase your chance of tetanus include:

  • Lack of tetanus vaccination or regular booster shots—or not updating tetanus vaccination in timely manner
  • IV drug use
  • Skin sores or wounds
  • Burns
  • Exposure of open wounds to soil or animal feces
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Symptoms  

Tetanus may cause:

  • Headache
  • Stiff jaw muscles or neck muscles
  • Drooling or trouble swallowing
  • Muscle spasticity or rigidity
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Pain or tingling at a wound site
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart beat that is too fast or too slow
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Diagnosis  

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is mainly based on the medical history.

Your doctor may test the wound. A culture will grow the bacteria causing the infection. Culture results are not always accurate for tetanus.

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Treatment  

Treatment may include:

  • Hospitalization—to manage complications of the infection
  • Opening and cleaning the wound—entire wounded area may need to be surgically removed
  • Antibiotics
  • Tetanus immune globulin—antibodies against tetanus that help neutralize the tetanus toxin
  • A tetanus shot—if your tetanus vaccine is not up to date
  • Medication to treat symptoms—may include antiseizure medication or muscle relaxants

Tetanus can cause severe problems with breathing or swallowing. A breathing tube may be inserted in the throat. This will help keep the airway open until you heal. A surgical procedure called a tracheotomy may be done. This will provide an open airway if your upper airway cannot be accessed.

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Prevention  

The best means of prevention is immunization. The immunization schedule for tetanus is as follows:

  • All children, with few exceptions should receive the, DTaP vaccine series. This protects against diphtheria , tetanus, and pertussis .
  • A single dose of Tdap vaccine is recommended for children aged 11 years or older, even if they did not receive the DTaP.
  • Adults should receive a booster dose of the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td) every 10 years. They may also receive this vaccine after an exposure to tetanus. It is not harmful to receive a tetanus vaccination earlier than 10 years.

If you or your child has not been fully vaccinated, talk to the doctor. There are catch-up schedules available.

In addition to the vaccine, you can prevent tetanus by taking proper care of wounds:

  • Promptly clean all wounds.
  • See your doctor for medical care of wounds.