Understanding Tetanus

Tetanus is a life threatening infection which is caused by a bacterium present in the soil, named Clostridium tetani. The bacterium usually infects a person by entering his wound, where the bacterium proliferates and produces toxins that are detrimental to the human health. The toxin then deposits in the nerves causing severe nerve muscle spasms. The toxin travels via the bloodstream and lymphatic tissues towards the nerves of the body.

Tetanus is a rare infection because the tetanus vaccine helps prevent the disease from occurring in most humans.

A person with tetanus infection may suffer from severe nerve muscle spasms, fever, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, excessive sweating, excessive drooling, urinary incontinence, rapid pulse, clenched teeth, high bleedingblood pressure, irritability and fear of water.

Treatment for tetanus includes cleaning the wound, intravenous fluids, tetanus immune globulin, antibiotics, oxygen therapy and medications to treat muscle spasms.

Disclaimer: this post on understanding tetanus is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage bleeding, wounds, infections, muscle spasms and fever’s enrol in St Mark James first aid and CPR training courses.

Risk factors

Risk factors associated with tetanus include:

  • Burns
  • Ear infection
  • Age group of 50 years and above
  • Contaminated wounds – contaminated with animal feces or oil
  • Endometritis
  • Frostbite
  • Intravenous drug abuse
  • Skin injury
  • Skin ulcers
  • Surgical wounds

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of tetanus include:

  • Painful and severe nerve muscle spasms resulting in arm pain, abdominal pain, facial pain, leg pain, cramping pain in the legs, cramping pain in one leg and neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Lockjaw – jaw pain, clenched teeth, jaw stiffness
  • Trismus – inability to open the mouth fully
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid pulse
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive salivation
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Fever
  • Tremors and shakes
  • Hydrophobia – fear of water
  • Irritability


Seek emergency medical help immediately. Go to the nearest hospital emergency room or clinic to treat symptoms of tetanus infection such as muscle spasm, muscle stiffness and muscle spasms that radiate from the jaw (clenched teeth) and neck and travel towards other regions of the body.

At the hospital, the casualty will promptly receive immune globulin infection along with a tetanus shot. Additional treatment includes sedatives and muscle relaxants. The patient will be hospitalized.


Follow these preventative steps to reduce the risk of incurring tetanus:

  • Get routine vaccinations for tetanus
  • Treat penetrating skin wounds carefully and promptly – clean wounds by rinsing with soap and water as soon as possible.

Minor, uncontaminated wounds may require a booster shot for a person who has not received a tetanus shot for the last ten years or more. Other wounds that are more severe may require a booster shot if the last one was received 5 or more years ago.


Complications associated with tetanus include:

  • Respiratory arrest
  • Airway  obstruction
  • Heart failure
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Pneumonia

Learn More

To learn more about tetanus and how to manage wounds sign up for first aid and CPR training courses with a credible St Mark James training provider.

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