Sunday, November 17, 2019 3:05

What Lockjaw Is and When to Get Vaccinated (Tetanus)

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Posted by on Thursday, December 23, 2010, 6:05
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Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a disease caused by the toxin producing bacteria Clostridium tetani. C. tetani produces a powerful neurological toxin, tetanospasmin, that, in those infected, can result in painful spasms contracting the muscle.
How Is Tetanus Transmitted?

Tetanus
Tetanus

Unlike many infectious microbes, C. tetani is not transmitted from person to person. One typically contracts tetanus when the bacterial endospore (kind of like a bacteria seed) enters the body through a break in the skin.

All Clostridium bacteria are vulnerable to the atmosphere, since they are killed by exposure to oxygen. But Clostridium endospores are both widespread (found in soil, dust and feces) and very tough, persisting in in the soil for decades.

This is why it is said that a person needs to have a tetanus shot for protection in the event that they step on a rusty nail. The rusty nail is not what gives you tetanus. Rust is just an indicator that the metal object has been outdoors, exposed to the elements, for some time, and is, therefore, more likely to have endospores on it. Once inside the body, the endospores germinate into living bacteria and then multiply.

However, stepping on rusty nails is not the only, or even the most common, way of contracting tetanus. Any tiny break in the skin or mucous membrane can allow tetanus endospores to enter the body.
How Does Tetanus Impact the Body?

The tetanospasmin toxin permanently bonds to nerve endings, and is impossible remove. For a person to completely recovery from a tetanus infection, new nerve endings must grow, a process that can take several months.

The muscular rigidity characteristic of tetanus impacts the entire body and can include the jaw locking shut, which interferes with swallowing and even breathing. Respiratory failure is the most common cause of tetanus-related death. Oxygen deficiency can also stress the heart, and result in cardiac arrest as the heart beats harder and faster to compensate.

How Is Tetanus Prevented?

Tetanus can be deadly, and causes death of one in ten victims. The disease is, however, very preventable, through vaccination. In most developed countries, vaccination programs prevent a high incidence of tetanus, but cases are still common in less developed countries. Even in countries where childhood vaccination is the norm, adults often fail to get regular tetanus boosters, leaving them vulnerable to the disease.
Vaccination against Tetanus

A tetanus toxoid vaccine is used to prevent the disease, and is a component contained in several combination vaccines. The Tdap and DTaP combo vaccines also protect against diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) and the DT and Td vaccines protect against both tetanus and diphtheria.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) currently recommends five doses of the DTaP vaccine during childhood. Adults also need to get vaccinated to “remind” their immune system to be on the lookout for C. tetani.

Adults who received the immunization series in childhood should have a booster shot every ten years. For those who never had the recommended childhood tetanus vaccines, a series of three tetanus shots is required to achieve immunity.

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