Tetanitis is a severe bacterial infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. It affects the nervous system causing paralysis and death within 3 days after onset of illness. It is one of the most common causes of death worldwide. Most cases are acquired from contaminated food or water. The disease can occur at any age but it is most commonly seen in children under 5 years old. Symptoms usually appear suddenly with fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting. Death occurs within 2 weeks of onset of symptoms.
The main symptom is weakness followed by paralysis and finally death. Injuries and surgical procedures involving the head trauma should be avoided especially in people who have received an injury in the area in the past. In the first few days after the disease has been acquired, the vaccine is very effective. The vaccine does not provide protection against infections other than tetanospasmin.
How Do You Get It?
The bacteria that cause tetanospasmin are found mainly in the soil and manure. It enters the body through cuts and wounds mainly in dirty environment. It can also enter the body through minor wounds in the skin from contaminated instruments and materials. It causes food poisoning by entering the body through contaminated food and water. It can also get into the body through the nose and mouth.
Tetanospasmin is not spread from person to person and infection does not occur if precautions are taken.
The tetanospasmin is ingested through contaminated food or water. The infection can be acquired by eating undercooked meat of animals that have ingested tetanospasmin through infected soil or manure. It can also be acquired by eating contaminated vegetables or fruits that have come in contact with infected soil.
Tetanospasmin can enter the body through minor breaks of skin especially in dirty environments. It can enter the body through contaminated syringes, other medical instruments and bedding materials. It can also enter the body through the nose and mouth.
The disease is not contagious from person to person. You cannot catch it from another person.
What Are The Causes?
The primary way of getting tetanospasmin is through contaminated soil and manure. The bacteria enters the body through the mouth or nose or through breaks in the skin. You can also get it by eating undercooked meat of animals that have ingested tetanospasmin.
Other Ways To Get It
You can also get it through contaminated bedding materials and other objects that have been in contact with infected manure. Injections with a contaminated needle or instruments. Wounds or burns on the skin.
What Are The Symptoms Of Tetanospasmin?
The most common symptom of tetanospasmin is muscle stiffness. Other symptoms include difficulty in swallowing, painful sore muscles, sore feet and legs, headache and fever. Other symptoms that may be experienced include paralysis, intense muscle pain, tiredness, difficulty in speaking and swallowing.
Death from tetanospasmin does occur but is very rare.
Expect The Symptoms To Be Like This…
The symptoms usually appear suddenly with fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting. Death occurs within 2 weeks after the disease has been acquired. Death is most common in children under 5 years of age. Death is not common in adults. Death may also occur due to respiratory failure.
The disease progresses through three stages.
The first stage is the local stage where the bacteria start multiplying and releasing toxins in the infected area. Muscles in the infected area become painful and rigid within 1 to 7 days after infection. The disease can be detected during this stage by carrying out muscle rigidity tests. Death may occur during this stage due to complications with blood pressure, increased heart rate.
The second stage is the descending paralysis stage. The toxin from the bacteria spread to different parts of the body through the bloodstream. The person starts suffering from paralysis of the face and neck muscles. The paralysis then affects the chest and the abdomen and causes difficulty in breathing. Other complications are also common during this stage.
Death may occur in some cases due to complications with paralysis of the respiratory muscles leading to asphyxiation.
The final stage is the generalized tetanospasmin paralysis. The paralysis and the muscle rigidity affects the whole body. This can lead to death due to complications with muscle failure.
If tetanospasmin is detected early and injected with an antidote within 72 hours after infection, the disease can be treated. If left untreated, the disease will always prove fatal.
Antitoxin is the standard treatment for tetanospasmin. Antitoxins are injected as soon as possible after infection. Antitoxin is most effective if it is injected within 72 hours of the disease being acquired. Antitoxins can be given by injection or by an intravenous line. Antitoxins in pill form do exist but these are not as effective and should only be used if the injectable forms aren’t available.
Other treatments involve the use of corticosteroids and supportive therapy to treat muscle pains and other complications.
So How Long Does It Take For The Symptoms To Start Showing?
The average incubation period is between 3 to 21 days. Rats and other rodents can carry the disease without showing any symptoms of the disease. They can then pass the disease on to humans if they bite or scratch a human or their fleas bite a human. The period between being bitten and contracting the disease can be as long as 2 weeks.
The disease can also be acquired by handling contaminated material such as infected dead animals or animal products.
The disease can also be acquired through wounds and even by inhaling the bacteria.
Once the bacteria start multiplying in the body the disease will start showing symptoms within 2 to 21 days.
What Are The Long Term Effects Of Having Tetanospasmin?
The disease can cause symptoms such as muscle aches and pains in parts of the body not directly related to the infected area. The disease may also cause a slight drop in the level of ATP in the blood.
If you have suffered a light case, or have been treated early enough, then the disease shouldn’t affect you apart from the muscle aches and pains.
If you have suffered a severe case then you may suffer muscle damage and scarring. This can lead to long-term or possibly permanent muscle weakness.
Is There A Vaccine Available?
Vaccines do exist for tetanospasmin and can be given as an injection. The vaccine is not always effective though as it is only 20 to 60% effective. There are also side effects such as pain and soreness at the site of injection.
Recent advances in technology have allowed the development of an affordable vaccine that can be taken as a pill rather than an injection.
The vaccine isn’t 100% effective but is significantly more effective than the injection form. It also has few side effects and can be taken by people with sensitive skin.
In addition, the vaccine may protect you from other diseases carried by rodents that aren’t tetanospasmin.
How Do You Prevent The Disease?
The best way to prevent tetanospasmin is to avoid rats and other rodents where possible. If you have to deal with them, make sure that you wear thick protective gloves.
It is also important to thoroughly clean and sterilize any injury acquired from a rat or other rodent. The same advice goes if you have to remove a rodent corpse.
Do not feed or handle wild rodents.
If you are bitten by a rodent then it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The bacteria that causes tetanospasmin is very resilient and survives well outside of a host.
If you wish to clean the wound make sure you use soap and water as soon as possible. You can then either use an iodine-based disinfectant or alcohol to sterilize the wound.
It is important to seek medical attention immediately after being bitten as this will increase your chances of surviving the disease. You can then take the vaccine to reduce the chances of getting infected.
Recent studies have shown that smokers are less likely to get infected with tetanospasmin if bitten by a rodent. It is believed to be due to certain compounds in the smoke that interfere with the bacteria.
If you are a smoker it is therefore recommended that you remain so during an outbreak.
How Is The Disease Treated?
There are two treatment options available for tetanospasmin. Both treatments involve the use of a vaccine, one is a preventative and the other is to reduce the effects if you become infected.
The preventative vaccine can be taken by healthy adults once every ten years. The vaccine is around 70 to 90% effective at preventing tetanospasmin. There are very few side effects, however some people develop pain and soreness at the site of injection.
Sources & references used in this article:
- Tetanus: pathophysiology, management, and prophylaxis (TP Bleck – Disease-a-Month, 1991 – Elsevier)
- Tetanus: pathophysiology and management (ME Ernst, ME Klepser, M Fouts… – Annals of …, 1997 – journals.sagepub.com)
- Tetanus: pathophysiology, treatment, and the possibility of using botulinum toxin against tetanus-induced rigidity and spasms (B Hassel – Toxins, 2013 – mdpi.com)