What Is Tetanus?
Tetanus is quite a serious infection caused by the bacteria called Clostridium tetani. It mainly affects the nervous system causing painful muscle spasms.
The bacteria produce toxins that attack the nervous system, impairing muscles; especially the jaw and neck muscle, causing severe contractions. Hence this disease is also called lockjaw. It is mostly a fatal disease, with treatment not being very effective.
However, the good news is that tetanus can be prevented by vaccines. Almost all cases of tetanus which are reported are found in people who haven’t been immunized against it. Tetanus is different from other infections in the sense that it does not spread from person to person or by contact. It is not contagious.
What Are The Symptoms Of Tetanus?
The incubation period (the period from the time of exposure to illness) ranges from 3 to 21 days, and symptoms may be experienced anytime between a few days to a couple of weeks once the bacteria enter the body. Common symptoms include:
- A headache, fever, sweating.
- Painful stiffness in body muscles, especially jaw and neck muscles.
- Cramps in the jaw.
- Difficulty in swallowing.
- Sudden tightening of involuntary muscles, especially stomach muscles.
- Blood pressure problems and increased heart rate.
- Very painful spasms which might last for several minutes; usually triggered by common things like light, touch, loud noise, etc.
- Face muscle spasms which cause strange facial expressions like a continuous stare, smile or grin.
Complications of this infection are:
- Bone fractures: Sometimes the spasms are so severe that they may cause the bones or the spine to break.
- Involuntary tightening of vocal chords.
- Pulmonary embolism: In some cases, a blood clot travels from a different part of the body and ends up blocking the main artery of the lung or any of its branches.
- Death: Muscle spasms sometimes cause difficulty in breathing, causing respiratory failure which may be fatal. When the person cannot breathe, lack of oxygen may also lead to a cardiac arrest. Pneumonia is also a complication of this disease leading to death.
What Are The Causes Of Tetanus?
Clostridium tetani spores are present in the soil, manure, animal faeces and dust. They might be present everywhere due to environmental factors. These spores enter the human body through cuts or wounds. When we have a puncture or an open wound injury caused by an infected object like a blade, splinter, nail or an insect bite, the spores enter the human body and multiply rapidly. Once inside the body, spores grow into bacteria and release a powerful neurotoxin called tetanospasmin, which attacks the nerves that control muscles. As a result, one experiences muscle stiffness and spasms.
Common ways by which the bacterial spores enter human body:
- When wounds are contaminated with infected saliva, dirt or faeces.
- When injuries are caused by sharp objects like a nail, needle, blade, tattoo, piercings, etc., which cause the puncturing wounds.
- Gunshot wounds.
- Insect or animal bites.
- New born baby may get tetanus from an infection of the umbilical cord as a result of unhygienic practices during child birth.
- Tetanus can also be caused by some uncommon ways like:
- In compound fractures, where the broken bone is exposed.
- Infections in teeth.
- Surgical procedures.
- Injections given into the muscles (intramuscular).
- Infected foot ulcers.
- Superficial wounds, where only the uppermost layer is scraped off.
- Chronic sores.
- People who do not get vaccinated against tetanus and those are not up to date with booster shots are at high risk of getting the disease.
What Are The Things One Should Do To Manage Tetanus?
- If you have got a puncture wound or a deep cut, any bite wounds or dirty wounds, you are at a high risk for tetanus infection, particularly if you are not vaccinated. Seek medical help for a booster shot and antibiotics.
- Initially, keep unclean wounds open so that bacteria are not trapped within a bandage.
- If you’ve got a minor wound, first stop bleeding by applying pressure.
- Clean the wound with soap and clean running water.
- Apply an antibiotic cream to prevent bacterial growth.
- Now apply a bandage to protect from further infection.
- Change the dressing regularly to prevent infection.
- Keep the area dry.
- Since jaw muscles stiffen and pain in this condition, apply a cold pack three times a day. It will give some relief.
- Doing jaw exercises will relax the jaw muscles to a certain extent.
What Are The Things One Should Avoid To Manage Tetanus?
- Do not leave any wounds unattended. If you have an open wound and it breaks the skin, then there is a possibility of contracting tetanus infection. If you have had a tetanus vaccine, the doctor might give you a booster. But if you aren’t really sure of having being vaccinated, then you will need the first primary vaccine for tetanus.
- Do not forget to immunize children against tetanus. Follow up the immunization schedules and take booster shots as prescribed.
What Are The Best Foods For Tetanus?
Foods that help in the management of tetanus are:
- Liquid foods: Since jaw muscles become stiff and the condition is painful, the patient has difficulty in chewing food. Hence food in the form of a liquid has to be taken to meet the body’s dietary requirements. Hot soups, milk and fruit juices can be consumed.
- To treat convulsions and muscle contractions and reduce the pain, stimulants such as wine, brandy and whiskey can be taken.
- If patient unable to take liquids orally, semi digested food can be administered with the help of a feeding tube.
- A high protein diet helps in reducing the effectiveness of clostridium tetani. Sources of protein are milk, eggs, meat, pulses, beans, etc.
- Magnesium helps in reducing inflammation and relaxes the jaw muscles. Magnesium rich foods are bananas, avocados, pumpkin, corn, oatmeal, flax seeds, etc.
- Garlic also has anti inflammatory properties. Include garlic in cooking to help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Other than these specific foods, when the patient is in a condition to take normal food, he should take complete wholesome food, including carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables to supply the required nourishment to the body.
What Are The Worst Foods For Tetanus?
- Eating a healthy diet is very important for recovery and to give required to the muscles. Avoid:
- Foods with empty calories like sugar laden foods: sweets, ice creams, and pastries
- Junk foods: Junk food fills up the plate, but hardly provides any nutrition to the body.
What Are The Medicines For Tetanus?
What Are The Tips To Manage Tetanus?
- Tetanus is an acute and a serious infection. Luckily, it can be prevented by vaccination. If you haven’t been immunized against tetanus, consider going to a health care centre and talk to the support staff about getting immunized.
- A person afflicted with tetanus infection needs great support from friends and family since the condition is very painful and hampers everyday activities. Following yoga and meditation routine will help in relaxing the body muscles as well as calm the mind.