9 Symptoms Of Tetanus

Tetanus is the name for an infection caused by bacteria, Clostridium tetani, that is found in dirt, soil, and manure and typically enters a person’s body through a puncture wound. Cases of tetanus are extremely rare in the United States—fewer than 30 cases are reported each year—due to the availability of a vaccine. In fact, the best way to prevent infection is to stay updated on vaccine boosters throughout one’s lifetime.

Contracting tetanus can be extremely serious. The incubation period between the time that bacteria enters a person’s bloodstream and the time that the illness presents itself can range anywhere between 3 and 21 days. Once the illness does present itself, it requires immediate medical attention. A medical professional, who examines a patient and looks for signs and symptoms of disease, diagnoses tetanus; there are no labs to test for tetanus. Medical treatment for tetanus is quite aggressive and typically requires monitored care in the hospital under the supervision of a team of physicians and nurses.

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Most people who contract tetanus are individuals who never received a vaccine or who did not receive their most recent booster. This is the number one way to prevent infection. In addition, it is always a good idea to practice safe wound care in order to prevent infection. Good wound care involves seeking immediate first-aid for even minor scrapes and scratches, or any wound that breaks the skin. However, it is also good to be aware of the common symptoms associated with this disease as a safety precaution.

1. Spasms in Jaw

The first sign of infection is spasms in the jaw, commonly called “lockjaw” or trismus. This is a painful condition where the jaw muscles become contracted and inflamed. Most people with trismus are only able to open their mouth about 35mm wide. When trismus is caused by tetanus, patients may experience spams all over the body but particularly in their head and neck regions. They may experience facial spasms that result in a strained-looking smile known as risus sardonicus.

Trismus impacts quality of life by making speaking and oral hygiene difficult. In addition, trismus can pose very serious health consequences by making eating difficult and by increasing the risk of aspiration. This last side effect is perhaps of the greatest concern for patients experiencing trismus caused by tetanus infection. Because of the severity of tetanus infection, trismus cause by lockjaw may rapidly impede a person’s ability to breathe and lead to asphyxiation. Trismus that develops gradually or is painful only intermittently and to a mild degree may be a sign of a more systemic disorder and not a first-warning sign of tetanus. Other causes of trismus include other infections, trauma injuries, chemotherapy, tumors, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).