As of 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there was an estimated 61, 000 deaths in less than five years. The case-fatality rate ranges from 10% to 90%, the highest rates found among infants and elderly. Each year, around one million cases occur worldwide, mostly in less developed countries.
Tetanus is an infection caused by the bacteria, Clostridium tetani. The tetanus bacterium is commonly found in the environment, living in soil contaminated with manure, and animal and human feces. Animal saliva and dust may also contain the tetanus bacterium. When the bacteria invade and multiply in the body, a poison (toxin) is produced and released. These toxins results to painful muscle contractions. There are ways to prevent tetanus. Vaccines are highly recommended to infants, children, teens and adults, supplemented by booster shots every 10 years.
In unvaccinated individuals, tetanus is acquired through a cut or deep wound which becomes contaminated with the bacteria. However, it has also been associated with surgical procedures, insect bites, dental infections and even clean wounds. There has not been a reported case of person to person transmission.
Generally, the initial sign of tetanus is the mild spasms of the muscles of the jaw, thus earning its other name lockjaw. Other symptoms of the infection include jaw cramps, stiffness of the neck, headache, fever and sweating, sudden and involuntary muscle tightening (often in the stomach), painful muscle stiffness all over the body, seizures characterized by staring and jerking movements, increased blood pressure and fast heart rate. Death may result from severe breathing difficulties or abnormalities in the heart.
It usually takes the infection eight days before it manifests on the victim. However, the incubation period may range from three days to three weeks, usually depending on how contaminated the wound is. Although if one’s wound is embedded by a foreign object, immediately seek medical attention. Moreover, if there is increased risk of infection, such as punctured by dirty object and dog bites, and previous wound had signs of becoming infected, medical attention must be sought for.
While waiting for medical attention, the wound must be cleaned to avoid growth of tetanus spores. For minor wounds, there are several ways to prevent tetanus. The first important step to do is to control the bleeding. Direct pressure should be applied on the wound. After the bleeding has stopped, thoroughly wash the wound with clean running water and soap. If a saline solution is available, use this instead. After cleaning the wound, apply a thin
layer of antibiotic ointment or cream, which can aid in repressing bacterial growth and infection. In addition, it can result to the wound healing more efficiently. If rashes appear, stop using the antibiotic. Cover the wound with a sterile dressing and change the dressing at least once a day. If the wound is unclean, do not cover to prevent trapping bacteria in the wound.
Several complications may occur if tetanus is not treated immediately. First aid must be administered in all medical situations. First aid treatment in various scenarios is taught in first aid classes offered by many various organizations and institutions such as St Mark James.