A tetanus shot (vaccine) may be a requirement after a traumatic injury resulting in broken skin. It is also recommended for people who are not updated with their vaccination.
Tetanus is a severe yet rare condition that can be fatal without proper treatment. Prompt management of wounds and infection control are essential factors to consider after an injury or disaster.
What Causes Tetanus
Tetanus is a serious infection caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani. Also known as lockjaw, this bacterium produces a toxin in the body that can affect the brain and the nervous system.
Spores of the bacteria that can cause tetanus exists in soil, dust, manure, and other environmental agents. Once it deposits in a wound, the neurotoxin can affect the whole body, including the nerves, constricting muscle movements.
Tetanus infection can result in severe muscle spasms, breathing difficulties, and, worse, fatal. Effective first aid treatment and getting the vaccine is the best way protection against the bacteria.
The good news is tetanus rarely occurs in Australia due to the high vaccination overage in the country. It can happen in people of any age, mainly older adults without the vaccine or who had one a few years back.
Currently, the case-fatality rate for tetanus in Australia is down to 2%.
Tetanus is considered a medical emergency. Immediate wound treatment and antibiotic care are necessary.
Signs and Symptoms
The primary sign of infection is spasms of the muscles in the jaw area, hence its other name, “lockjaw.”
Other symptoms may include:
- Sudden, involuntary muscle tightness in different areas
- Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
- Trouble swallowing
- Jerking or staring movements (seizure)
- Changes in blood pressure levels
- Rapid heartbeat
The symptoms usually emerge about seven to ten days after the infection. However, it is not the same in every situation. Some may appear four days to three weeks, and it may take months in rare cases.
The rule in tetanus infection is – the further the injury is from the central nervous symptom, the longer the incubation period will be.
Patients with shorter incubation periods tend to suffer have severe symptoms.
Tetanus Treatment and Prevention
Go to a medical clinic or hospital emergency room for rigid muscles and painful spasms in the jaw and neck.
The doctor usually recommends antibiotics to kill bacteria and tetanus immune globulin (TIG) to neutralize the toxin in the body. They might also provide alternative medications to control muscle spasms and support vital body functions.
Other treatments may involve:
Being up to date with the tetanus vaccine is the best way to prevent infection. However, it is important to note that protection from such does not last a lifetime.
There is still a need to get the vaccine regularly to keep a high level of protection against infection for previously vaccinated individuals.
Tetanus vaccine is recommended to people of all ages, with booster shots throughout life.
Effective Wound Care
Immediate and effective wound care helps in preventing complications. Do not delay first aid even for minor non-infected wounds such as cuts, blisters, scrapes.
Wash the wound thoroughly using soap and clean water. Avoid touching the infected area while providing first aid.
Remove any obstructive jewellery or clothing and apply direct pressure to the wound to control bleeding.
Take pain medications, if necessary. Seek professional help right away for concerns or further advice.
Do I need a tetanus shot?
For tetanus-prone wounds that are considered high-risk, a tetanus shot is a must-have.
Anyone who receives a deep and dirty wound and does not have a shot over a couple of years should get vaccine booster shots.
The use of tetanus immune globulin is also effective in preventing infection. Urgent medical attention is necessary as this treatment only works for a short time after the injury.
Learn First Aid
Applying appropriate wound care treatment can speed up the healing process and reduce the risk of complications from tetanus infection.
Learn the practical skills to help save a life.
Book a first aid course today.