Tetanus: what it is, symptoms, transmission and treatment


Tetanus is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which can be found in soil, dust and animal feces, as they inhabit your intestines. Thus, the transmission of the disease happens through contact with spores of this bacteria that can be found in the environment and enter the body through small injuries or burns, resulting in the appearance of some symptoms such as muscle spasms, fever and muscle stiffness, for example.

It is important that the treatment is done as soon as the first signs and symptoms of the disease are noticed, because in this way it is possible to prevent the appearance of complications. In addition, to prevent infection by the bacteria, it is important to take the tetanus vaccine, which is indicated from the age of 2 months, being carried out in 3 doses and with reinforcements throughout life.

tetanus symptoms

Tetanus symptoms usually appear between 2 and 28 days after contact with the bacteria Clostridium tetanus, which can enter the body in the form of spores through small wounds or skin lesions caused by objects contaminated by soil or animal feces containing the bacteria.

After the spores of the bacteria enter the body, there is production of toxins, which results in the development of the typical signs and symptoms of this disease, the main ones being:

  • Muscle spasms;
  • Stiffness of the neck muscles;
  • Fever below 38ºC;
  • Tight and sore belly muscles;
  • Difficulty swallowing;
  • Feeling as if you are clenching your teeth tightly;
  • Presence of injuries.

The toxin produced by the bacteria prevents the muscles from relaxing, that is, the muscle remains contracted, making the process of opening the mouth and swallowing, for example, quite difficult and painful. In addition, if tetanus is not identified and treated, more muscles can be compromised, resulting in respiratory failure and putting the person’s life at risk.

Online symptom test

To know the chance of having tetanus, select the symptoms presented in the following test:

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of tetanus is made by the general practitioner or infectious disease specialist by evaluating the signs and symptoms presented by the person, as well as their clinical history and vaccination history. Laboratory tests are most often inconclusive, as a large amount of bacteria is required to confirm the diagnosis of tetanus, although the same amount of bacteria is not required for symptoms to appear.

In this way, blood, microbiological and imaging tests may be indicated to help exclude other diseases and, thus, be possible to confirm tetanus.

How does the transmission happen?

The transmission of tetanus occurs through contact with spores of the bacteria, which, due to the low availability of oxygen, germinate, giving rise to the bacillus and producing toxins responsible for the signs and symptoms of the disease. Thus, the most common ways to catch tetanus are through:

  • Wounds dirty with saliva or animal feces, for example;
  • Wounds caused by piercing objects, such as nails and needles;
  • Lesions accompanied by necrotic tissue;
  • Scratches caused by animals;
  • burns;
  • Tattoos and piercings;
  • Rusty objects.

In addition to the usual forms, tetanus can be contracted more rarely through superficial wounds, surgical procedures, infected insect bites, open fractures, intravenous drug use, dental infections, and intramuscular injections.

Tetanus can also be transmitted to newborns through contamination of the umbilical stump during delivery. The newborn infection is quite serious and needs to be identified and treated as soon as possible.

tetanus treatment

After confirming the diagnosis, it is important that the treatment is started as soon as possible so that it is possible to prevent complications, being normally started with the vaccine against this disease with the aim of stimulating the immune system, followed by an injection with a neutralizing substance of bacterial toxins. In addition, the use of antibiotics, muscle relaxant remedies, and regular wound cleaning is also indicated. Understand how tetanus is treated.

It is also important that measures are taken to prevent infection, such as keeping all wounds or burns covered and clean, as this will prevent the bacteria from entering the body.

how to prevent

The main form of prevention is the tetanus vaccine, which is part of the national vaccination schedule, and must be administered in several doses to be taken at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, with a booster between 15 and 18 months. , between 4 and 5 years and another between 9 and 10 years. However, the vaccine does not last for life, and therefore must be repeated every 10 years. Learn more about the tetanus vaccine.

In addition, to prevent the occurrence of tetanus, it is important to pay attention and care to wounds, keep them covered and clean, always wash your hands, avoid delaying the healing process and not use shared sharps, such as needles.

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