Also known as “lockjaw”, because it causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to tighten making it difficult for a person to open the mouth and swallow. This is due to the bacteria Clostridium tetani that produces a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions.
Hidden In The Dust, Soil And Dirt
Tetanus is not spread from one person to another. Instead the bacteria, C. tetani, lives in soil, dust and manure enter the body through cuts or puncture wounds cause by contaminated objects (nails, glass and sharp objects in the dirt). Those involved in vehicle crashes are also at higher risk of exposure to C. tetani.
It Doesn’t Only Cause Lockjaw
Besides the signature characteristic of jaw cramps, those with tetanus also experience headache, fever and sweating. Their blood pressure and heart rate may also increase. Toxins from the bacteria can cause muscles all over the body to involuntarily tighten, often in the stomach. In some cases, seizures (jerking and staring) may occur.
Defnitely No Laughing Matter
Tetanus becomes life-threatening when complications occur. It can cause breathing difficulty possibly leading to death 10-20% of the time. Less threatening complications involve uncontrolled/involuntary muscular contraction of the vocal cords (laryngospasm), breaks in the bone (fractures) due to intense and non-stop muscle spasms and lung infection (pneumonia). Sometimes blockage a major blood vessels in the lung by a blood clot (pulmonary embolism) may occur, mostly in the elderly.
Escaping the Jaws of Death
Unlike polio and smallpox, this is one disease that can never be eradicated as tetanus bacteria exists in our very environment. The best way to protect yourself against tetanus is to be fully immunised.
In our Malaysian NIP, the tetanus vaccine is given as part of the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) combination vaccine at 2, 3 and 5 months, followed by a booster dose at 18 months. A tetanus booster vaccination is also given at 7 years and 15 years old. A tetanus booster is required every 10 years to maintain immunity. Talk to your doctor at your local private hospital or clinic to make sure you are immunised.