Tetanus: Introduction, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More


Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and muscles, especially in the jaw and neck. Without treatment, tetanus can be life threatening. According to the CDC, about 10 to 20 percent of tetanus infections are fetal. Tetanus is a medical emergency that needs immediate hospital treatment. Luckily, tetanus can be prevented with a vaccine, but the vaccine doesn’t last forever. Booster shots are needed every 10 years to maintain immunity. Because the vaccine is easily available, tetanus is rare in the United States. It’s more common in countries without strong immunization programs. For more research you can also visit Wikipedia. 

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is a serious disease of the nervous system by a toxin-producing bacterium. It causes muscle contractions, especially in the jaw and neck muscles, and is commonly known as lockjaw. Severe complications of tetanus can be life-threatening.

What are the Types of Tetanus?

There are two types of tetanus. Such as:

Localized Tetanus:

This is a rare form of tetanus muscle spasms near the wound site. Although it is usually less severe, it can develop into generalized tetanus.

Cephalic Tetanus:

This rare form of tetanus comes from a head wound. It causes weak facial muscles and jaw muscles spasms. It can also develop into generalized tetanus.

What are the Causes of Tetanus?

Bacteria called Clostridium tetani cause tetanus. These bacteria’s spores are found in dust, dirt, and animal droppings. Spores are small hardy reproductive bodies that can survive harsh conditions like high rate. A per can get infected when these spores enter the bloodstream through a cut or deep wound. The spores then spread to the central nervous system and produce a toxin called tetanospasmin. This toxin blocks nerve signals from the spinal cord to the muscles, causing severe muscle spasms. Tetanus infections has been linked:

  • Crush injuries
  • Injuries with dead tissues
  • Burns
  • Puncture wounds from piercings, tattoos, injection during use, or injury (like stepping on a nail)
  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, feces, or saliva

Less commonly, it’s been linked to:

  • Animal bites
  • Dental infections
  • Insects bites
  • Chronic sores and infections

Tetanus is not contagious from person to person. This infection occurs worldwide but is more common in hot, damp climates with rich soil in densely populated areas.

What are the Symptoms of Tetanus?

Tetanus symptoms usually appear 7 to 10 days after infection, but this can vary from 4 days to about 3 weeks, and in some cases it may take months. Generally, the farther the injury site is from the central nervous system, the longer the incubation period. Patients with shorter incubation times tend to have more severe symptoms. Muscle symptoms then spread to the neck and throat, causing swallowing. Patients often have spasms in their facial muscles. Breathing difficulties can result from neck and chest muscles stiffness. In some people, abdominal and limb muscles are also affected. In severe cases, the back muscles are affected causing the spine to arch backward. This is more common in children with tetanus. Most individuals with tetanus will also have the following symptoms:

What are the Risk Factors of Tetanus?

The biggest risk factor for tetanus infections is not being vaccinated or not getting the 10-year booster shots. Other factors that increase the risk of tetanus infection include:

  • Cuts or wounds exposed to soil or manure
  • A foreign object in a wound, such as a nail or splinter
  • A history of immune-suppressing medical conditions
  • Infected skin lesions in people with diabetes
  • An infected umbilical cord when the mother isn’t fully vaccinated
  • Shared and unsanitary needles for illegal drug use

What is the Diagnosis of Tetanus?

In many countries the average doctor may never see a patient with tetanus because the tetanus vaccine is part of childhood immunizations, making the infection rare. For example, in the United States, in 2009, there were only 19 reported cases of tetanus. The earlier a patient is diagnosed with it, the more effective the treatment will be. A patient with muscle spasms and stiffness who has recently had a wound or cut is usually diagnosed quickly. Diagnosis may take longer for patients who inject drugs because they often have other medical conditions. They may need a blood test for confirmation. Anyone who experiences muscle spasms and stiffness should seek medical attention immediately.

What is the Treatment of Tetanus?

A cut or wound must be thoroughly cleaned to prevent infection. A tetanus-prone wound is treated by a medical professional immediately. A wound likely to develop tetanus is defined as:

  • A wound or burn that requires surgical intervention delayed for over 6 hours
  • A wound or burn that has a significant amount of tissues removed
  • Any puncture-type injury that has been in contact with manure or soil
  • Serious fractures where the bone is exposed, such as compound fractures
  • Wounds or burns in patients with systemic sepsis

Any patients with one of these wounds should receive tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG) as soon as possible, even if they have been vaccinated. TIG contains antibodies that kill Clostridium tetani. It is injected into a vein and provides immediate short-term protection against tetanus. TIG is short-term and does not replace the long-term protection of vaccination. Experts say that TIG injections can be safely administered to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Doctors may prescribe penicillin or metronidazole for tetanus treatment. These antibiotics prevent the bacteria from multiplying and producing the neurotoxin that causes muscle spasms and stiffness. Patients who are allergic to penicillin or metronidazole may be given tetracycline instead. To treat muscle spasms and stiffness, patients may be prescribed:

Anticonvulsants: Such as diazepam (Valium), which relax muscles to prevent spasms, reduce anxiety, and work as a sedative.

Muscles Relaxants: Such as baclofen which suppress nerve signals from the brain to the spinal cord, reducing muscle tension.

Neuromuscular Blocking Agent: Such as pancuronium and vecuronium, which blocks signals from nerves to muscle fibers, helping control muscle spasms. They include:

Surgery: If the doctor thinks the tetanus-prone wound is very large, they may surgically remove as much of the damaged and infected tissues as possible (debridement). Debridement is the removal of dead or contaminated tissue or foreign material. In the case of a tetanus-prone wound, the foreign material might be dirt or manure.

Nutrition: A patient with tetanus needs to consume more calories each day due to increased muscle activity.

Ventilator: Some patients may require ventilator support to assist with breathing if their vocal cords or respiratory are affected.

What are the Complications of Tetanus?

If the patient does not receive treatment the risk of life-threatening complications is higher. According to the CDC, tetanus currently has an approximately 11% mortality rate. Complications may include:

  • Fractures
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Laryngospasm
  • Tetanic seizures
  • Broken bones
  • Death
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Severe kidney failure (acute renal failure)

What is the Prevention of Tetanus?

Vaccine can prevent tetanus infections, but only if you receive your booster shots on schedule. In the United States, children receive the tetanus vaccine as part of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shot, known as the DTap shot. This vaccine protects against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, but it doesn’t provide lifelong protection. Children need a booster shot at 11 or 12 years old. Adults then need a booster vaccine called the Td vaccine (for tetanus and diphtheria) every 10 years after that. If you’re unsure if you’re up to date on your shots, check with your doctor. Proper treatment and cleaning of wounds can also help prevent the infection. If you get injured outside and think your wound has touched soil, call your healthcare provider and ask about your risk of tetanus.

What You Need to Know About Polio?

Polio is a viral infection that can lead to paralysis and in severe cases, death. It can easily spread from person to person. The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to completely eradicate polio. If successful, it would be only the third disease to be eliminated this way, following smallpox and rinderpest. Currently, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are the only three countries where polio transmission has not been stopped entirely. However, efforts have reduced its reach and spread in these areas over time. The WHO had hoped to achieve complete polio eradication by 2018.

What are the Symptoms of Polio?

It’s estimated that 95-99% of people who get the poliovirus don’t show any symptoms. This is called subclinical polio. Even without symptoms, people with the virus can still spread it to others.

Non-paralytic Polio:

The signs and symptoms of non-paralytic polio, also known as abortive it, can last from one to 10 days. They can be similar to the flu and may include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Meningitis

Paralytic Polio:

About 1 percent of its cases can progress to paralytic polio. Paralytic polio can lead to paralysis in the spinal cord (spinal polio) brainstem (bulbar polio), or both (bulbospinal polio). Initial symptoms are similar to non-paralytic polio, but after about a week, more severe symptoms may appear. These include:

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe spasms and muscle pain
  • Weak and floppy limbs, sometimes on just one side of the body
  • Sudden paralysis which can be temporary or permanent
  • Deformed limbs especially in the hips, ankles, and feet

Full paralysis is rare. Less than 1 percent of all its cases result in permanent paralysis. In 5-10 percent of polio paralysis cases, the virus attacks the muscles used for breathing, which can lead to death.

Post Polio Syndrome:

It’s possible for polio to come back even after you’ve recovered. This can happen 15 to 40 years later. Common symptoms of post-polio syndrome (PPS) include:

  • Continuing muscle pain
  • Easily feeling tired or fatigued
  • Muscle wasting also known as muscle therapy
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Sleep insomnia, or problems with breathing during sleep
  • Low tolerance to cold temperatures
  • New weakness in muscles that weren’t affected before
  • Feeling of depression
  • Psychological stress
  • Trouble concentrating and remembering things

If you’ve had it and notice these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It’s estimated that 25 to 50 percent of polio survivors will experience PPS. PPS isn’t contagious. Treatment involves strategies to improve your quality of life and reduce pain or fatigue.

What are the Causes of Polio?

Polio is a highly contagious virus that spreads through contact with infected feces. It can also be transmitted by objects like toys that have touched infected feces. Sometimes, the virus can spread through a sneeze or whooping cough as it lives in the throat and intestine though this is less common. People in areas with limited access to clean water or toilets often get polio drinking water contaminated by infected human waste. This virus is so contagious that even living with someone who has it can put you at risk, according to the World Health Organization. Pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems like those with HIV/AIDS and young children are most likely to get polio. If you haven’t been vaccinated you can increase your risk of  getting polio if you:

  • Travel to an area where it is spreading
  • Care for or live with someone who has it
  • Handle a laboratory sample of the virus
  • Have your tonsils removed
  • Experience extreme stress or strenuous activity after being exposed to the virus

What is the Diagnosis of Polio?

Doctors can diagnose it by testing samples of your poop or through for the poliovirus. They’ll take a small sample by swabbing your throat or collecting a poop sample then test it in a lab. Sometimes, they might also check your spinal fluid. This is done with a procedure called a spinal tap or lumbar puncture, where a needle is inserted into your spinal canal to collect a sample of fluid.

What is the Treatment of Polio?

Doctors can only treat the symptoms of polio while the infection runs its course because there’s no cure. The best way to deal with polio is to prevent it through vaccinations. Common treatments to help manage symptoms include:

  • Resting in bed
  • Taking painkillers
  • Using antispasmodic drugs to relax muscles
  • Taking antibiotics for urinary tract infections
  • Using portable ventilators to assist with breathing
  • Undergoing physical therapy or wearing corrective braces to aid walking
  • Applying heating pads or warm towels to ease muscle aches and spasms
  • Receiving in physical therapy to address breathing and lung cancer
  • Engaging in pulmonary rehabilitation to improve lung endurance
  • In severe cases of leg weakness, you might need a wheelchair or other mobility aid.


What happens if you have tetanus?

Tetanus typically starts with mild spasms in the jaw and muscles, also known as lockjaws. These spasms can also impact muscles in the chest, neck, back, and abdomen. Back muscle spasms may cause arcing, a condition called opisthotonos. Occasionally, the spasms affect muscles involved in breathing resulting in breathing difficulties.

Can you naturally recover from tetanus?

Most healthy children and adults can recover from tetanus, but it causes a serious and prolonged illness. About 11% of reported tetanus cases result in death. In the United States., where there are 50 or fewer of tetanus each year, deaths are common among individuals aged 60 and older.

Can tetanus resolve on its own?

You might experience stiff and weak muscles only around the area of the wound. This condition is known as localized tetanus. Symptoms may improve without treatment, or they may spread.

Can tetanus heal naturally?

Once tetanus has started, it cannot be stopped. Tetanus can only be managed, not cured.

Can vitamins C treat tetanus?

Vitamin C was used alongside standard treatment for it. Intravenous vitamins C reduced the mortality rate of children aged between 1 and 12 with tetanus by 100% and that of patients aged 13 to 30 by 45%.

Does tetanus go away?

There is no cure for it. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and complications until the effects of the tetanus toxin resolve.

What is the survival rate of tetanus?

Without treatment, 1 out of 4 infected people die from tetanus. The death rate for newborns with untreated tetanus is even higher. With proper treatment, less than 15% of infected people die. Wounds on the head or face appear to be more dangerous than those on other parts of the body.  

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