Tetanus is a serious, sometimes fatal, disease caused by the
infection of a puncture wound in the skin by spores containing
the bacterium, Clostridium tetani. These bacterial spores are
commonly found in soil, animal excrement, house dust, operating
rooms, contaminated heroin, and most surprisingly the human
colon. The bacteria that causes tetanus cannot grow in the
presence of oxygen. That is why the bacteria do not grow in
shallow or wide wounds exposed to air. The way these spores enter
your body is through a wound that penetrates the skin and extends
deeper than oxygen can reach. The spores then produce a nerve
toxin as they multiply and enter the bloodstream. The newly
produced nerve toxin causes spasms and convulsions by interfering
with the nerves that control muscles. The toxin moves inward
towards the spine at about 10 inches a day. Once tetanus has
spread, the mortality rate is approximately 40%. The tetanus
bacteria commonly live in the intestines of both animals and
As mentioned earlier, tetanus is found in soil, animal
excrement, house dust, operating rooms, contaminated heroin, and
the human colon, but the most prevalent way of communication is
through animal bites. Wild animals are perfect carriers for
tetanus, and with nature?s constant unpredictability there is
always a chance of infection. There is also many unknown ways of
infection that you may never have thought were possible for
tetanus; such as stomach ulcers and infected umbilical cords.
Symptoms are extensive and painful, some of which include
uncontrollable spasms, stiff jaw and neck muscles, difficulty
swallowing, slight fever, headache, chills, involuntary
contraction of muscles, and irritability. Typically the first
symptoms are felt eight to twelve days after infection. In severe
infections it takes only a minor stimulus to trigger s seizure.
If muscle spasms develop early, chances of recovery are poor.
Some of the most common risk factors occur in people who
have not had recent booster vaccinations against the disease.
Fortunately there are only about 50 cases a year that are
reported in this country. Of those 50 about three quarters are
elderly people or people who have never been immunized. Though an
estimated one million infants die of tetanus in developing
countries each year because of poor hygiene.
If tetanus ever develops in your body you must seek medical
attention immediately. You may receive a course of antibiotics
and an injection of tetanus antitoxin. Other treatments include
medications such as chlorpromazine, diazepam, and you may even
require the aid of an artificial respirator or other life support
measures during the first couple weeks.
Prevention is of the most importance since tetanus is often
fatal, even with expert treatment. The two major means of
prevention are immunization and wound care. Immunizations should
be given at least every 10 years and possibly sooner. When you
have a wound, even a tiny scratch there is always a possibility
of contracting tetanus. You can never be too careful, so take
every precaution and take care of yourself. You never know when
you could have tetanus.