WHAT IS TETANUS?
Tetanus is an infection caused by a bacterium called clostridium tetani which can attack the muscles and the nervous system. Tetanus bacteria live in the soil and dirt. The bacteria may get into your body through a cut or a wound in the skin. The bacteria makes a poison which causes the illness.
Even small wounds such as a prick from a thorn can allow enough bacteria to get into the body to cause tetanus. The illness can take up to 21 days to develop, sometimes more. Therefore, you may have forgotten about a small cut before the illness starts. Tetanus is uncommon in Europe and North America but most cases occur when people are not vaccinated.
WHAT ARE THE SYMTOMS?
This depends on the severity of the disease. Symptoms often start in the face because the nerves to the face are the shortest in the body. The earliest symptom is usually painful spasm of the jaw muscles, which makes opening the mouth difficult. Within 24 hours stiffness can progresses to involve the neck, back and chest muscles. The arms and legs may also feel stiff.
WHAT ARE THE COMPLICATIONS?
Within two or three days, the stiff muscles may go into intermittent spasms which are uncontrollable. When spasms involve the whole trunk in severe tetanus, the body arches backwards violently. The most serious symptom of tetanus is spasm of the muscles used in breathing. This can cause cough, discomfort, shortness of breath and death. Tetanus kills some 50,000 people a year worldwide.