DefinitionTetanus (also known as lockjaw) is an infection marked by prolonged muscle spasms. The infection creates a toxin that affects the nervous system. It can be fatal if left untreated.
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CausesTetanus is caused by specific bacteria that is found in soil, dust, or manure. It enters your body through a break in the skin. Once inside the body, the bacteria create a toxin. This toxin causes tetanus.
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of tetanus include:
- Lack of tetanus vaccination, 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
- Antibiotics to fight the bacteria
- 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
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