Tetanus, commonly referred to as lockjaw,is an infectious disease of the nervous system that is caused by the toxins released by the bacteria Clostridium tetani.This condition is characterized by painful contractions of the muscles in the jaw and the neck. Tetanus can be life-threatening when left unmanaged since it can also affect the muscles involved in respiration.

Even though the bacteria that causetetanus can be found almost everywhere, cases of tetanus infection(especially in developed countries like the United States) are becoming rare in incidence, due to the discovery of the tetanus vaccine. It is another story for developing countries, however, as tetanus is still one of the leading causes of death.



The bacteria Clostridium tetani causes tetanus infection. This type of bacteria exists anywhere, in the form of spores, especially in the soil, and in human and animal excrement. Breaks in the skin, particularly those caused by puncture wounds from dirty nails and splinters; can be the breeding ground for the activated spores to mature into gram-positive bacteria. Once mature, this bacterium can release a very potent neurotoxin that results into spontaneous muscle spasms.

Tetanus infections do not only result from splinter or nail puncture wounds. They can also arise from contaminated burns, infections that result from dental procedures, animal bites, and needle punctures from tattoos, body piercings, and hypodermic needles.

Neonatal tetanus, as the term implies, occurs to newborns. This is another type of tetanus wherein the infection comes from the unsanitary conditions that the child is born into. The usual site of infection in these cases is the stump of the umbilical cord. Because of this condition, it is now a standard procedure that anticipating women are given tetanus shots during pregnancy. This is to prevent the occurrence of neonatal tetanus.

Even though tetanus is an infectious disease, it can only be gained through exposure to the environmental elements. It cannot be transferred from one person to another.


Signs and Symptoms

After the moment of infection, it may take several months for the initial symptoms to appear. However, the usual incubation period of this infection is only about 8 days. In theory, the distance of the injury site is directly proportional to the length of the incubation period; meaning that the bigger the distance of the infected wound is from the central nervous system, the longer it will take the infection to develop. Also, the earlier the symptoms develop, the more serious they will be.

The primary sign of tetanus are mild spasms in the muscles of the jaw called trismus. This is where the other name of tetanus, lockjaw, is taken from. These spasms can spread to the neck, torso, and the buttocks. Major spasms of the back muscles can sometimes lead to the arching of the back referred to as opisthotonus. The danger of the spread of the spasms is when it affects the muscles that are associated with breathing.

When the spasms are prolonged, they can cause sudden, painful contractions of large muscle groups called tetany. When this happens, muscle injuries, even fractures, can occur. Other symptoms associated with tetanus are fever, difficulty in swallowing, abdominal muscle stiffness, profuse sweating, increase in blood pressure, and rapid heart rate.



Treatment for tetanus will highly depend on whether the affected individual has been vaccinated prior to the infection. If vaccination has been done, the patient will be given a tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG); but if not, hospital admission is recommended and a treatment regimen that involves antibiotics, antitoxins and muscle relaxants will be administered. Sometimes, a mechanical ventilator will be needed in cases where respiration becomes a problem.

Prognosis for tetanus is somehow good, but it will take several months before an infected person can fully recover.

As with any illness, prevention is better than cure. This is the reason why it is important that vaccinations should be complete and updated as necessary. Immunization against tetanus has been done in order to protect individuals from getting infected. If exposure to the bacteria cannot be avoided, a prophylaxis can be administered along with proper wound care.


Disability Tax Credits for Tetanus

If you have unfortunately been exposed to tetanus infection, you can file for a disability claim from the Canadian Revenue Agency. But first, you need to secure a disability tax certificate from a qualified physician to verify your condition. To help you out with the filing of your claim, you can solicit the help of one of our agents in HandyTax.