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Tetanus

AMBULATORY CARE:

Tetanus

is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust, and the bowel movements of some animals and humans. The bacteria produce a toxin that damages nerves. This causes severe muscle spasms. Left untreated, tetanus can be life-threatening.

Common signs and symptoms:

You may have stiff and weak muscles only in the area of the wound. This is called localized tetanus. Symptoms may go away without treatment, or they may spread. Infection that spreads is called generalized. You may develop any of the following within days or weeks of the infection:

  • Lockjaw (a muscle spasm in the jaw and neck that locks your jaw closed)
  • Muscle spasms that are severely painful, often triggered by noise, light, or touch
  • Rigid facial muscles, or raised eyebrows with lips pulled into a grin
  • Rigid abdomen, arm, and leg muscles
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Trouble urinating
  • Feeling restless or irritable, or a fast heartbeat or breathing
  • A headache or seizures
  • Sweating or a low fever

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing.

Call your doctor if:

  • Your heartbeat is very fast or not regular.
  • You have muscle spasms in your face.
  • You start to feel muscle cramps or spasms near a wound.
  • You have a wound that is large or cannot be cleaned.
  • You have an open wound or a puncture wound.
  • You do not know if your tetanus vaccines are current.
  • You need a tetanus booster shot.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment:

If the infection becomes generalized, you will need to be treated in a hospital. You will be kept in a dark, quiet room to prevent muscle spasms. You may also need the following:

  • Medicines may be given to stop or prevent seizures and muscle spasms. Antitoxin may also be given to stop the toxin from spreading in your body. Medicine may be given to fight a bacterial infection or to control pain. Your healthcare provider may also give you a dose of the tetanus vaccine.
  • Debridement is surgery to clean a wound and remove any dead tissue. Objects such as rocks or glass will also be removed.

Prevent tetanus:

  • Clean every wound immediately. Apply pressure to the wound to stop any bleeding. Clean the wound with soap and water. Remove dirt or other objects from the wound. Cover the wound with a clean bandage. Change the bandage every day and if it gets wet or dirty.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about vaccines. A tetanus infection does not make you immune from another infection. The DTaP, Tdap, and Td vaccines help protect against tetanus. Your provider can recommend the vaccines that are right for you based on your age and health. The Td vaccine is usually given every 10 years. You will also need Td after a wound if you did not get a booster in the past 5 years. Pregnant women should get 1 dose of Tdap with each pregnancy, during weeks 27 to 36.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Tetanus (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference

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