Tetanus, commonly referred to as ‘lockjaw’, is a potentially fatal infection that is caused by the toxin produced by Clostridium tetani, a bacterium that sometimes infects wounds. This organism is often found in soil, street dust, or animal and human excrement. Tetanus occurs in all parts of the world, but occurs most frequently in hot and wet climates where the soil is rich in organic matter.
Here are a few facts about tetanus that you should know:
- Tetanus mainly affects individuals who practice the following occupations (but are not limited to): Herders, farmers and farm workers, abattoir workers, and vets/animal health workers.
- Tetanus isn’t ageist. Anyone can get it!
- The disease is common (and most serious) in newborn babies. This is usually related to the cultural tradition of applying cow dung to the umbilical stump of newborns.
- There is an increased risk of contracting tetanus when a person gets a cut, a burn, any type of wound, have an unsanitary injection (e.g. intravenous drug use), or animal bite injury.
- The incubation period ranges from seven to 10 days.
- Typical signs and symptoms begin with mild spasms in the jaw muscles and facial muscles. Chest, neck, back, gluteal, and abdominal muscles may be affected. Sometimes the spasms affect muscles that aid breathing, which can result in respiration problems.
- The diagnosis of tetanus is clinical, and if a person thinks they may have been exposed it is recommended to consult a healthcare provider.
- Prevention of tetanus is through vaccination, and is included in the routine childhood vaccination series.
- Tetanus vaccine boosters should be given at 10-year intervals.
Click on the PDF link to download more information about this infection, including its clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment.