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Facts About...


What is it?

Tetanus, commonly known as lockjaw, is a serious, sometimes fatal disease of the nervous system. Those who survive often have long term problems with speech, memory, and mental function. When the bacteria enter the body, a toxin (poison) is made that affects the nerves that control muscle activity.

During the 1920s and 1930s, 26 to 55 deaths from tetanus were reported each year. Due to immunization with tetanus toxoid vaccine there have been 0-5 cases per year in Ontario (2005-2014). The disease is more common in farming regions and in areas where contact with animal feces is more likely and in areas where immunization rates are lower.

How is it spread?

Tetanus usually enters the body through the skin after an injury such as a puncture, cut or bite that is contaminated with soil, feces or saliva. Tetanus is not spread from person to person. Symptoms usually occur 3 days to 3 weeks after coming in contact with the bacteria, most often within 10 days.

What do I look for?

One of the first signs of tetanus is painful muscle spasms of the jaw and neck. This makes it hard to open the mouth. Other symptoms include stiffness of the stomach and back muscles and spasms of the facial muscles. Spasms last for 3-4 weeks, but complete recovery takes much longer. A low grade fever and severe sweating may occur.

How is it treated?

Patients with tetanus are admitted to hospital. Treatment depends on the nature of the wound and the whether the person has had a tetanus vaccine in the past. This may include Tetanus Immune Globulin (TIG), antibiotics, muscle relaxants and supportive treatment such as breathing assistance. Patients with no history of tetanus vaccine should start the course of vaccination to prevent tetanus in the future.

How can I protect myself?

July 22, 2016