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All You Need To Know About Tetanus

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Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani. The bacteria make a toxin in the body that causes the disease. It lives in soil, saliva, dust, and manure. Tetanus causes severe muscle spasms, especially in the neck and jaw (called lockjaw). Around one in 10 people who get the disease will die from it. Babies and older people have the highest risk of dying from tetanus. Tetanus can lead to suffocation or being unable to breathe, pneumonia, very high blood pressure, very low blood pressure, heart attack.

Symptoms

Tetanus symptoms include muscle spasms, especially in the face and neck, painful fits that can last for minutes, not being able to open your mouth (lockjaw), swallowing problems, breathing problems, heart problems and fever. The symptoms usually start between three and 21 days after catching tetanus.

Who is at risk?

Tetanus can affect people of any age. Tetanus is common in Nigeria because most people are not immunised. People at high risk of disease include people who have not been immunised against tetanus as well as people who have not had a booster immunisation in the past 10 years. Most deaths from tetanus occur in the neonate and the elderly.

How it spreads

Spores of the bacteria that cause tetanus are found in soil, dust and animal waste. When the spores enter the body through a cut or sore, they grow into bacteria that produce a very strong toxin.

Tetanus can enter the bloodstream through: cuts and wounds in the skin, any wound that is not clean, animal or human bites,body piercings, tattoos, injections, eye Injuries. Tetanus does not spread from person to person, so one cannot catch tetanus from another person.

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Prevention

Tetanus can be prevented with vaccination, however immunity fades over time so one need booster doses to make sure one stay protected. Booster doses are recommended for vaccinated adults every 10 years.

One can help avoid getting tetanus by keeping: Tetanus immunization up to date, cuts and wounds clean, covering wounds when doing outdoor activities, such as sport, gardening. Farmers should be vaccinated against Tetanus because of  wounds they are prone to and also due to their repeated exposure to soil which is the habitat for tetanus bacteria.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose tetanus by examining recent cuts or wounds that could have been in contact with soil, checking for other symptoms such as neck or jaw stiffness, trouble swallowing and irritable behaviour, asking when you had your last tetanus booster.

Treatment

Tetanus is a life-threatening disease that is treated in hospital over a period of days. Treatment includes wound care, antibiotics, tetanus antitoxin, medicines to stop seizures, life support, in severe cases. Also cases of bites like dog bite, human bite, insect bites and burns are given tetanus vaccination.

Neonatal Tetanus

Neonatal tetanus is a generalised tetanus infection of the newborn. Newborn are infants who are less than one month of age. It usually gets transmitted from an unvaccinated mother and enters the body through infection of unhealed umbilical stump. This typically happens when the umbilical cord is cut using unsterile instruments.

Neonatal tetanus starts showing symptoms in newborns about eight days after birth. Common symptoms to watch out for are; rigidity of muscles with spasms, irritability (continuous crying), Grimacing of face and restlessness; poor feeding /sucklini ability.

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Neonatal tetanus generally has a poor prognosis. If any of the above signs are noted, immediate medical attention is a must.

Neonatal tetanus risk factors include the following: unvaccinated pregnant mother, unhygienic conditions during child birth, use of traditional methods for umbilical cord management (rat faeces, ash, herbs), unclean hands, unsterilized instruments, newborn exposure to raw soil / dust and traditional practices like circumcision in unhygienic places.

Neonatal Tetanus can be prevented by immunizing women of childbearing age with tetanus toxoid, either during pregnancy or before pregnancy. This protects the mother through a transfer of tetanus antibodies to the fetus and also to the baby.

Tetanus vaccination

Vaccines are available that can help prevent tetanus. In Nigeria three kinds of vaccines used today protect against tetanus, all of which also protect against other diseases:Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hepatitis B, Haemophillus influenza B. (Pentavalent Vaccine)

  • Tetanus Toxoid (TT)
  • Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccines

(c) Rotimi Adesanya


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