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What is Tetanus?

What is Tetanus?


(by Joshua Wong, Guardian Pharmacist)

What is Tetanus?
Tetanus or commonly known as “lockjaw” is a disease caused by the toxins that target the nerves. The toxins are produced by the bacteria, Clostridium tetani, that thrive in the soil, dirt or animal faeces. Is Tetanus contagious? Tetanus is not contagious. The bacteria have to enter the body through open wounds on the skin that are usually caused by cuts, abrasions, animal bites, body piercings or contaminated injection needles.

What are the symptoms?
Upon entry of the bacteria into the body, it will take around 7 days to weeks for symptoms to appear. Muscle stiffness is the most apparent symptom, beginning with the jaw muscles followed by the neck muscles and subsequently the abdominal muscles. The muscles spasms can make breathing or swallowing difficult. Other non specific symptoms include high fever and increased blood pressure or heart rate.

What are the complications?
If not treated promptly, severe spasms of the spine may lead to bone damages. As the toxins can affect the vital organs of the body including the lungs, spasms of the lung muscles can be fatal as it can lead to respiratory failure or pneumonia.

How to manage tetanus?
Most wounds may be managed with simple first aid techniques. However, do see a doctor immediately if you have a deep wound, wounds that are caused by dirty or rusty objects, and if you have been bitten by stray animals. Tetanus is usually treated with tetanus immunoglobulin and antibioticswith supportive treatment.

How to prevent tetanus?
Most people would have been vaccinated against tetanus as the vaccine is routinely given as part of the immunisation program for every Singapore residents. However, if you are travelling to areas with limited medical access and your lasttetanus vaccination is more than 10 years ago.

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