Tetanus is a severe, sometimes fatal disease, and its cause is a type of bacterium called Clostridium that lives in the ground and can attack the human body through a wound created by infected object, e.g. a nail or a thorn. The risk is highest in injuries with contaminated land, and in the muscles or other tissues with poor blood supply. Bacteria can quickly multiply on dead skin or muscle if the oxygen content is low. The toxin (poison) produced by the bacteria attacks the nerves of the spinal cord which control muscle movements.
After incubation, which can take at least two days or few months, patient’s limbs are hardened, as well as abdominal and back muscles, in which very painful spasms (cramps) occur. In an adult, these symptoms develop in a week, and muscle stiffness precedes seizures spasms.
Thanks to the vaccination against tetanus, the disease is extremely rare. Children are vaccinated against the disease in the first year, but usually revaccinated approximately every five years. The number of patients is continuously decreasing.
In spite of specialist medical care, about 10% of cases of tetanus ends in death, often due to spasms (cramps) in the throat and chest interfere with breathing.
What to do?
If someone in your family is not vaccinated against tetanus, they should to it immediately. Revaccinate every few years. It is important to keep a record of the dates because there can be a strong reaction to the injection in some people, if they receive them too often. Even though you feel that you are immune, always clean any wound with water and soap, and with an antiseptic agent. This is especially important with any cuts you got outside of your home.
If you have never received anti-tetanus injection, and have obviously contaminated wound, immediately go to the doctor who will give you the injection. If the wound is quickly and thoroughly cleaned (disinfected), the disease is almost certainly not going to develop.
However, if the tetanus is still developing, you should immediately start with hospital treatment.
Curing tetanus includes taking antibiotics along with three injections of antitoxin for controlling toxins produced by the bacteria. The patient will probably heal in an intensive care unit, where special equipment that will take over body functions disrupted with paralysis (caused by the poison) applies. You may be given, for example, a muscle relaxant, and breathing will support or take over an artificial breathing apparatus (respirator).
The goal of treatment is to maintain body functions approximately three weeks, which is how much this disease usually lasts. But, despite modern methods of treatment, the disease in some cases can be fatal.