DefinitionTetanus (also known as lockjaw) is an infection marked by prolonged muscle spasms. The infection is a toxin affects the nervous system. It can be fatal if left untreated.
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CausesTetanus caused by a specific bacterium found in soil, dust, or manure. It enters your body through a break in the skin.When it is in your body, the bacteria create a toxin. This toxin causes tetanus.
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of tetanus include:
- Lack of tetanus vaccination or regular booster shots—or not updating tetanus vaccination in timely manner
- IV drug use
- Skin sores or wounds
- Exposure of open wounds to soil or animal feces
SymptomsTetanus may cause:
- Stiff jaw muscles or neck muscles
- Drooling or trouble swallowing
- Muscle spasticity or rigidity
- Pain or tingling at a wound site
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart beat that is too fast or too slow
DiagnosisThe doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is mainly based on the medical history.Your doctor may test the wound. A culture will grow the bacteria causing the infection. Culture results are not always accurate for tetanus.
TreatmentTreatment may include:
- Hospitalization—to manage complications of the infection
- Opening and cleaning the wound—entire wounded area may need to be surgically removed
- Tetanus immune globulin—antibodies against tetanus that help neutralize the tetanus toxin
- A tetanus shot—if your tetanus vaccine is not up to date
- Medication to treat symptoms—may include antiseizure medication or muscle relaxants
PreventionThe best means of prevention is immunization. The immunization schedule for tetanus is as follows:
- All children, with few exceptions should receive the, DTaP vaccine series. This protects against diphtheria , tetanus, and pertussis .
- A single dose of Tdap vaccine is recommended for children aged 11 years or older, even if they did not receive the DTaP.
- Adults should receive a booster dose of the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td) every 10 years. They may also receive this vaccine after an exposure to tetanus. It is not harmful to receive a tetanus vaccination earlier than 10 years.
- Promptly clean all wounds.
- See your doctor for medical care of wounds.
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
ACOG Committee Opinion No. 566: Update on immunization and pregnancy: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccination. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;121(6):1411-1414.
Tetanus (lockjaw) vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/tetanus/default.htm. Updated February 7, 2013. Accessed June 2, 2014.
1/24/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (tdap) vaccine from the advisory committee on immunization practices, 2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(1):13-15.
11/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) in pregnant women and persons who have or anticipate having close contact with an infant aged <12 months—Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60:1424-1426.
4/1/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Bridges CB, Coyne-Beasley T, et al. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older—United States, 2014.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014. 63(7):110-112.
Akinsanya-Beysolow I, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), et al. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0 through 18 years - United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63(5):108-109.
- Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 06/02/2014
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