Tetanus is an infection caused by a bacteria that is usually found in soil, dust, and manure. The primary characteristics of this disease are muscle spasms and lockjaw. According to a surveillance report published by the Department of Health, there were only 15 reported tetanus-related deaths in 2021.
Clostridium tetani is the bacteria responsible for tetanus. These bacteria are often found in soil, dust, and animal feces and they can get into the body through broken skin. This usually happens when wounds or injuries come into contact with contaminated objects or when the objects themselves pierce the skin barrier.
In the Philippines, people that walk barefoot in the streets and those that work in dirty and unsafe conditions may have a higher risk of getting a tetanus infection. Furthermore, unvaccinated individuals should be encouraged to get the vaccine for this disease since this can prevent possible infections from happening.
The symptoms of tetanus usually present themselves 10 days after the initial infection. This disease targets the nervous system and would generally affect a patient's control over his own body. The most common symptoms are muscle spasms (sudden, involuntary muscle tightening) and “lockjaw” (unable to open the mouth) when these spasms affect the face.
When these muscle spasms spread to the neck, patients can experience difficulty breathing and swallowing. A patient can also experience painful muscle stiffness all over the body especially at the arms and legs.
Similarly with other infections, a patient with tetanus may also experience the following symptoms:
An individual is diagnosed with tetanus through proper physical examination. The symptoms of this disease are distinct and a correct diagnosis may be given by supplementing the examination with the patient’s medical and vaccination history.
Tetanus should be treated immediately to prevent severe complications from happening. For example, fresh wounds should be thoroughly cleaned to prevent infection and should be given tetanus immunoglobulin to kill any tetanus-causing bacteria.
Antibiotics such as penicillin and metronidazole can also be prescribed by the physician for tetanus treatment. These drugs prevent the bacteria from multiplying and producing the toxin that causes muscle spasms and stiffness.
For the specific treatment of muscle spasms, anticonvulsants such as diazepam and baclofen can be given to help relax the muscles.
Tetanus is a vaccine-preventable disease and the shot for this disease is given along with the shots for diphtheria and pertussis. Three doses are administered to newborns at different intervals to facilitate proper immunization against the disease. If an adult is not sure that they have received the vaccine for tetanus when they were babies, they can talk to their physician to order a tetanus titer to check for immunity or they can request for the Tdap vaccine.
The prevalence rate of tetanus is decreasing over time as more people get vaccinated for this disease.