Tetanus or Lockjaw

Tetanus (lockjaw) is caused by a toxin that affects the nervous system produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The C. tetani spores are found in soil and have also been detected in the intestines of animals and humans.  Spores are tiny little bodies that protect the dormant bacteria in them from heat and other physical environmental elements. While you can get tetanus from stepping on a rusty nail, you can also get it from any cut or scrape while working in the garden or doing repairs to your home and from an animal bite. Tetanus occurs worldwide,  but most frequently in agricultural and densely populated areas,  and  can also be seen in newborn babies who are delivered without adequate sterile procedures.

Symptoms of Tetanus infection

The incubation period of tetanus is generally 3 to 21 days. Once the tetanus bacteria enter the body through a cut, they release the toxin that causes painful muscle spasms, usually beginning in the jaw and then progressing downward to other muscles, including the breathing muscles. This can make it difficult or impossible to breathe.  It should be noted that a person with tetanus is not contagious.  If left untreated, there can be serious complications or even death. The mortality rate in the unvaccinated people is 10% to over 80% and is highest in infants and the elderly.

Tetanus prevention

The only treatment is to give an antitoxin and provide supportive care to help one breathe, but there is no cure. The best way to protect you from tetanus is to get immunized.

Aside from being up to date with vaccinations, here are some other ways to help prevent tetanus:

  • Wear protective gloves, clothing and footwear while gardening or renovating;
  • Be mindful when using tools that can cause injury or puncture the skin; and,
  • If injured, immediately clean wounds thoroughly with warm water and soap.