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Tetanus Kills: Take Care of Open Wounds

Tetanus is a severe infection of the nervous system, presenting with painful, involuntary muscle contractions, especially of the neck and jaw muscles.

Tetanus, in severe cases, could affect the muscles which help one to breathe, causing respiratory arrest and death. The disease is rare in developed countries and remains a public health burden in developing countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, tetanus causes deaths in 110,000 women and newborns every year. Once a newborn contracts it, death occurs within a few days.

What Causes Tetanus?

Tetanus is caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. Spores of these bacteria are found in soil, dust, and animal waste. They enter the body mostly through a deep fresh wound, where they incubate, grow, and eventually produce toxins that cause stiffness and contraction of muscles.

Tetanus can get access to the body through:

  • Puncture wounds
  • Surgical wounds
  • Burn injuries
  • Fractures
  • Insect bites
  • Animal bites
  • Foot ulcers
  • Tooth infections
  • Infected umbilical stump in newborn infants of mothers who were inadequately immunized.

For tetanus in newborns, poor hygienic conditions and poor access to sterilized childbirth equipment increases the risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Tetanus

After one has contracted the bacterium, it incubates for about two weeks before it begins to manifest. Common symptoms one may experience include:

  • Stiffness of muscles of the jaw
  • Stiffness of neck muscles
  • General body spasms
  • Fever
  • Fast heart rate
  • High blood pressure

The complications of the disease result from the forceful contraction of the muscles: broken bones, and death from respiratory failure, which occurs when the muscles which help in breathing contract involuntarily and do not relax.

Treatment of Tetanus

There is no cure for tetanus: treatment is largely supportive and includes wound care and medications that provide symptomatic relief and prevent complications of the disease.

These medications include:

  • Tetanus Antitoxin: To neutralize the tetanus toxins that are yet to bind to the nerves.
  • Antibiotics: to attack the tetanus bacteria
  • Sedatives: to combat the involuntary muscle spasms.
  • Muscle relaxants.

Prevention of Tetanus

You can prevent Tetanus through the following:

Immunization

Almost all cases of tetanus occur in people who have not been immunized or who have not updated their booster doses.

The tetanus vaccine is administered as a part of a three-vaccine shot (DPT), which also contains diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine. In Nigeria, the DPT vaccine is given in a series of five shots when a child is 6 weeks, 10 weeks, and 14 weeks of age.

Another dose is recommended during adolescent years with booster doses received every 10 years thereafter.

Wound Care

Wound care is vital in preventing tetanus. When you sustain an injury, it is important to keep the wound clean and dressed by a healthcare professional to prevent infection by tetanus.

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