What it is: Referred to as lockjaw, tetanus is a bacterial infection of the nervous system. Bacterial spores release poison in the body, causing damaging muscle spasms. It has the potential to be deadly if not treated properly.
How it spreads: Spores that reside in soil enter the body through an open wound. A sharp, dirty object like rusted metal or rose bush thorn often introduces the bacteria into a person’s system.
What it causes: The nervous system begins suffering and showing symptoms through painful tightening of the jaw muscles as well as the chest, neck, back and abdomen. Further symptoms include:
- Breathing problems
- Excessive sweating
- Hand/foot spasms
- Swallowing difficulty
- Uncontrolled urination, defecation
What to do: Once infected, a person with tetanus should undergo antibiotics and get plenty of bed rest. Tetanus immune globulin, muscle relaxers, sedatives and surgery to clean the entry wound also offer treatment options.
Tetanus is completely preventable by way of proper immunization. DTaP vaccine is available for infants and children and is given at two, four, six and 12-15 months, with a booster at ages four to six years. Td and Tdap vaccine is available for persons age seven years and older, and it is recommended to be given every 10 years. Tdap is to be given only once after age 11. Adults should replace one of the 10-year booster shots with Tdap.
last reviewed: 4-23-19 JD/ PLF