What is Tetanus?
Tetanus is a disease of the nervous system that’s caused by the clostridium tetoni bacterium. Tetanus, also known as lock-jaw, is a highly dangerous disease that causes severe skeletal muscle spasms and contractions. It can also lead to locking of the jaw due to these spasms. There are several vaccines available that can be used to prevent tetanus in children, teens and adults.
What are the symptoms of Tetanus?
The incubation period can onset anywhere from 3 to 21 days, but symptoms usually present themselves around the eighth day. Early symptoms of a Tetanus infection include lock-jaw, or the inability to open the mouth fully, stiffness in the neck and abdomen, and difficulty swallowing.
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Generally speaking, the further away the site of injury where the bacteria entered the body from the central nervous system, the longer it takes the disease to incubate and present symptoms. The shorter the incubation period, the higher the chance of death.
Neonatal Tetanus can occur when the umbilical cord is cut with unsterilized instruments. The incubation period averages 7 days.
As the infection progresses, muscle spasms and tonic seizures begin. Severe autonomic system disorders set in. In cases of late stage Tetanus infections, bone and spinal fractures may occur from severe muscle spasms. Spasms of the vocal cords and the muscles used during respiration occur, making breathing difficult.
What are the types of Tetanus?
Local Tetanus is not common, but is localized to the injury site. Local Tetanus may be a predecessor to the more dangerous and severe General Tetanus. Of reported cases, only 1 percent of cases are fatal.
Cephalic Tetanus is a very rare form of the disease and occasional occurs with ear infections. It normally follows injury to the ears, head or neck. This form of the disease affects facial muscles and cranial nerves.
The most common form of Tetanus affecting about 80 percent of reported cases is Generalized Tetanus. Unfortunately, this is also the most dangerous form of the disease. With this form of the disease, muscle spasms can continue for several weeks after treatment. Full recovery may take months.
Neo-natal tetanus occurring just after birth is extremely rare in the United States, but occurs in developing countries where sanitation issues are present. Worldwide, there are nearly 260,000 deaths due to Tetanus annually.
How do you get Tetanus?
Tetanus is not a communicable disease. It only enters the body through a break in the skin. While it is not contagious, it is easy to catch for those with very active lifestyles or dangerous jobs.
Who needs to be vaccinated?
Any adult who has never been vaccinated or who hasn’t had a booster shot in ten years should get vaccinated as soon as possible. Initial vaccines are in a series of three injections. All infants should be vaccinated beginning at 2 months.
Who shouldn’t be vaccinated?
Some children should not be vaccinated if they are moderately to severely ill. Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine should not get another dose. Anyone who has suffered from a nerve or brain disease within 7 days should not be inoculated.
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Traveling outside of USA and concerned about your health? Travel vaccinations are recommended for many destinations. Find out about the requirements and talk to a physician.