The National Academies

The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

Tetanus

Tetanus is a disease that affects the nervous system, characterized by painful muscle spasms, especially those of the jaw and neck. It is caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria, which produce a toxin that can impair the nerves that control muscles. The spores of these bacteria are plentiful in the environment and affect humans when they get trapped in dirty wounds and release toxins in the body.

Symptoms
At the onset of tetanus—after about 7 to 10 days—patients usually develop headaches and spasms in the jaw muscles. This can lead to “lockjaw,” or a tightening of the jaw, until the patient can no longer open his or her mouth or swallow. As the disease progresses, spasms occur in other muscles, and patients sometimes experience muscle dysfunction that resembles seizures. Infections should be treated immediately. Tetanus can be fatal, but an extensive vaccination effort worldwide has reduced its occurrence significantly.

Treatment
There is no cure for tetanus but medication can be used to ease its symptoms. Antibiotics are prescribed to fight the tetanus bacteria, and antitoxins can fight toxins that have not yet bonded to and affected nervous tissue. Sedatives and other medications can help regulate muscle activity and prevent spasms.

Prevention
Tetanus can easily be prevented by the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine, which is typically administered to young children. Adults should receive tetanus boosters every 10 years and international travelers should get them before leaving their home country. Other precautions include cleaning wounds carefully to remove dirt and foreign objects that may carry tetanus spores.

Sources:
http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/tetanus/en/index.html 
http://www.cdc.gov/tetanus/about/index.html
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tetanus/home/ovc-20200456

Explore Other Topics

What do you know about infectious disease?

“Antibiotic resistance” refers to:

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    “Antibiotic resistance” refers to the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria undergo a genetic change that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs or other agents designed to cure or prevent infection.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    “Antibiotic resistance” refers to the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria undergo a genetic change that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs or other agents designed to cure or prevent infection.

  • Correct!

    “Antibiotic resistance” refers to the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria undergo a genetic change that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs or other agents designed to cure or prevent infection.

Infectious Disease Defined

Tissue Culture

The process by which tissues are intentionally grown under controlled conditions.

View our full glossary