What is tetanus?Tetanus is an acute, sometimes fatal, disease of the central nervous system, caused by the toxin of the tetanus bacterium, which usually enters the body through an open wound. The tetanus bacterium live in soil and manure, but also can be found in the human intestine and other places.
- Tetanus occurs more often in warmer climates or during the warmer months.
- Tetanus is very uncommon in the US due to widespread immunization. Fewer than 50 cases every year occur in the US.
How is tetanus transmitted?Tetanus is not a contagious illness. It occurs in individuals who have had a skin or deep tissue wound or puncture. It is also seen in the umbilical stump of infants in underdeveloped countries. This occurs in places where immunization to tetanus is not widespread and women may not know proper care of the stump after the baby is born. After being exposed to tetanus, it may take between two days to two months to develop any symptoms. In infants, symptoms may take between five days to two weeks to develop.
What are the symptoms of tetanus?The following are the most common symptoms of tetanus. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- stiffness of jaw (also called lockjaw)
- stiffness of abdominal and back muscles
- contraction of facial muscles
- fast pulse
- painful muscle spasms near the wound area (if these affect the larynx or chest wall, they may cause asphyxiation)
- difficulty swallowing
How is tetanus diagnosed?Symptoms usually confirm the diagnosis of tetanus.
Treatment for tetanus:Specific treatment for tetanus will be determined by your child's physician based on:
- your child's age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
- medications (to control spasms)
- thorough cleaning of the wound
- tetanus immune globulin (TIG)
- in countries where TIG is not available, equine tetanus anti-toxin may be available. Tetanus anti-toxin is no longer available in the United States
- if TIG is not available, intravenous immune globulin may be considered for treatment
- antibiotics for 10-14 days are also used
- a tracheostomy (a breathing tube inserted surgically in the windpipe) in severe cases with respiratory problems
Prevention of tetanus:A DTaP vaccine that includes tetanus is routinely given in the US during childhood (the other two diseases included are diphtheria and pertussis). Booster immunization shots are needed every 10 years.
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