What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is an infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Spores of the bacterium live in the soil and the disease can occur worldwide. Infection begins when the spores are introduced into an injured wound. The incubation period is 5-21 days. After the spores germinate, they will release a toxin, which mainly affects the nervous system and the muscles. The patient usually presents with painful muscular contractions, primarily over the jaw and neck and secondarily over the trunk. Fractures and muscle tears may follow to occur. The disease is very dangerous and often causes death through failure to breathe.

How does it spread?

Most Tetanus cases are due to the contamination of wound by spores of Clostridium tetani. The spores are ubiquitous in the environment and can be introduced into the body through punctured wound site, lacerations, burns or even trivial wounds. Injection of street drugs using contaminated needles can also cause tetanus.

How can you prevent it?

Travellers are advised to complete the vaccination before travelling as Tetanus can be completely preventable by active tetanus immunization. Generally, it provides protection for ten years. Consult your family physician if there is doubt over the details of immunization program and to check whether the vaccination has been completed. If injury is sustained during travel and the wound is suspected contaminated, travellers should clean the wound properly and consult a physician at once.

How can it be treated?

Treatment consists of neutralising the toxin by administering tetanus immune globulin; killing the bacteria with antibiotics; removing infected tissues where necessary; and giving muscle relaxants for muscle spasms. Sedation and respiratory support with oxygen may be required in severe cases.

Generally, the death rate is high in children and in the elderly. If the person survives after the illness, recovery is generally complete.



Last revision date: 10 October 2012