Tetanus is a dangerous bacterial infection that attacks
the central nervous system (CNS) and causes muscles to tighten up. The
infection usually causes muscle contractions in the jaw and neck region but can
eventually spread throughout the body. If not promptly treated, the infection
can be life-threatening. Ten to twenty percent of patients infected with
tetanus will die. Tetanus can be prevented through immunization, and in the
U.S., it is given to children through the DTap shot. The DTap shot is a
three-in-one shot that vaccinates children from diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus.
Sometime around a child’s eleventh birthday, they are supposed to get a booster
shot, another dose of the vaccine, and adults should have a booster every ten
years. There are only around thirty U.S. cases a year. To help parents
easily have their children vaccinated, shots are often given free in public
schools.

       Clostridium
tetani is the bacteria that causes Tetanus. The bacteria can be found in dust,
dirt, and animal feces. Spores are small reproductive bodies produced by
certain organisms. Open wounds allow these spores to enter the bloodstream and
cause infection. The bacteria then spreads to the CNS and makes a toxin called
tetanospasmin. This toxin blocks the nerve signals from your spinal cord to
your muscles, and can lead to severe muscle spasms. The tetanus bacteria is linked
to and often caused by crush injuries, burns, puncture wounds, animal bites,
and dental infections, all circumstances that allow bacteria to enter the skin.

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       Tetanus
affects the nerves that control muscles, which can lead to difficulty
swallowing. Patients can also experience spasms and stiffness in muscles, most
likely those in the jaw, abdomen, chest, back, and neck. According to the
Center for Disease Control, other common Tetanus symptoms such as seizures, headache,
fever and sweating, changes in blood pressure, and increased heart rate may
occur. The time between exposure to the bacteria, and the
illness actually taking effect, is between three and twenty one days. Symptoms
usually appear within fourteen days when the infection sets in. Infections that
develop more quickly following exposure are typically more severe and need more
extreme treatment.

       Your
heath-care professional will most likely perform a physical exam to check for
symptoms of tetanus, such as muscle stiffness and painful spasms. Lab tests are
not required to determine if a person has tetanus. However, your doctor may
still perform lab tests to help make sure the patient doesn’t have another
disease with similar symptoms, such as meningitis or rabies. Your doctor will
also check your immunization history and base his diagnosis from that. You’re
at a much higher risk of tetanus if you haven’t been immunized or if it’s time
for you to get your booster shot. The earlier the disease is diagnosed and
treatment begins, the better the chances of recovery. If a person has an
injury and suspects the possibility of tetanus, a doctor should be seen
immediately.

       Treatment is
dependent upon the extent of the patient’s symptoms. Tetanus is treated with
multiple types of therapies and medications. Because it is a bacterial
infection, it can be treated with an antibiotic.  Healthcare professionals will clean the wound
to eradicate the bacteria in the body. Physicians may prescribe penicillin or
metronidazole for treatment. These antibiotics prevent the bacteria from
spreading and producing the neurotoxin that causes muscles to spasm and stiffen.
If a patient has difficulty
swallowing and breathing, he/she may need a breathing tube, or ventilator, to
assist with breathing. A tetanus vaccine is also given along with the treatment
to reduce the chance of recurrence. If the doctor thinks the infected wound is
unusually large, he/she may surgically remove as much of the damaged and
infected muscle as safely possible.
            Tetanus is a disease that
people should not risk. If an injured person suspects the possibility of
infection and his/her booster shot is overdue, a doctor should be consulted
immediately. Prevention is key. Children should be protected if they received
their required shots on schedule, and adults should receive a booster every ten
years, or upon injury, just to be on the safe side.

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