NY Travel Clinic

Tetanus – Clinical Features and Treatment

Tetanus is a serious disease which can occur because of an injury with a contaminated object. The bacteria Clostridium tetani (C.tetani) enters the body through the wound or skin break. It is mostly found in soil. It is transmitted into the body through breaks in skin that may occur due to wounds, burns or animal bites.

Tetanus is also called “lockjaw”. It is thus called because in tetanus, the jaw muscles tighten and the person suffering from it cannot open his mouth. Other symptoms associated with tetanus include fever, headache, high blood pressure, muscle stiffness, trouble swallowing and seizures.

Tetanus is a serious disease as it can cause difficulty in breathing and paralysis. It is believed that approximately 10 to 20 percent of people with tetanus die even with intensive care.

While international travel does not increase the risk of tetanus, people who do humanitarian aid work or are engaged in constructing or demolishing buildings may be at a higher risk. It is generally advisable to get vaccinated against tetanus, especially if they are in an environment where there might be a risk of getting injured by a contaminated object or use injection drugs or if they are have a medical procedure in an unhygienic setting.
Travelers are recommended to get a tetanus vaccine before travel. This is especially important for those who plan to travel to areas that do not have a proper healthcare infrastructure or where access to healthcare services may be difficult.

There are three forms of tetanus vaccine. Td is a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine which is given to adolescents and adults as a booster shot every ten years. It can also be given after an exposure to tetanus. The Tdap vaccine contains protection against pertussis. It is recommended that adolescents 11 to 18 years of age and adults 19 years or older should receive a single lifetime dose of Tdap. DTap vaccine is given to children who are younger than 7 years of age. They require five doses of DTap – one at 15-18 months, 2 years, 4 years, 6 years and 4-6 years.

Tetanus does require hospitalization where the patient is treated immediately with human tetanus immune globulin (TIG) or equine antitoxin in situations where TIG is not available. The patient is also given a tetanus toxoid booster as well as agents to control muscle spasm and antibiotics for infection.