What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a potentially deadly infection of the nervous system caused by bacteria known as Clostridium tetani (C. tetani). Tetanus can occur when spores of these bacteria enter the body through an open wound that comes in contact with soil contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria release a poison, called tetanospasmin, into the body, and this blocks the nerve signals from the spinal cord that control muscles.

Tetanus causes painful spasms that can be powerful enough to tear your muscles and even cause fractures of bones. They can also impair your breathing by constricting the intercostal muscles in the chest wall.

Left untreated, tetanus is often fatal. However, the prognosis is much better for patients who receive treatment, for whom the mortality rate is less than 10% (Source: PubMed).

Tetanus is a potentially deadly condition that requires immediate treatment. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have an open wound that may have been contaminated with soil, especially if you have not received a tetanus booster shot in the last 5 years.


What are the symptoms of tetanus?

The symptoms of tetanus begin between 7 and 21 days after exposure to the bacteria. Symptoms include lockjaw, a painful condition caused by muscle spasms in your jaw. Spasms can occur in other areas as well, including your back, chest, neck and abdomen. Your breathing can be constricted if the spasms affect the muscles of the diaphragm and other structures that support your breathing.

Read more about tetanussymptoms


What causes tetanus?

Tetanus infections occur when C. tetani bacteria, found in soil, enter your body through an injury or wound. The bacteria release a poison known as tetanospasmin that causes extremely powerful muscle spasms by blocking signals that your spinal cord normally sends to your muscles to allow you to move.

Contrary to popular belief, you will not get tetanus by stepping on a rusty nail ... Read more about tetanuscauses


How is tetanus treated?

Treatment of tetanus begins with seeking immediate medical care from your health care provider. Among other things, your health care provider may prescribe medication to combat the infection, such as antibiotics, or take measures to rid your body of the poison.

Treatment with antibiotics

Antibiotic therapy is... Read more about tetanustreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves, Injuries and Wounds