Tetanus infection is a fairly common preventable disease among newborn babies in developing countries though it affects all age groups.
The disease is found mostly in sub – Saharan Africa, Asia (India, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.) but it is worldwide. It is characterized by generalized muscles contractions resulting in ability of the person to even open the mouth. The germ produces a chemical called tetanospasmin which causes muscles to contract; the death rate due the disease is high.
1. What Causes Tetanus?
Tetanus is caused by a germ called Clostridium Tetani which is found in soil, dust, dirt, and also in the intestines and faeces of man, horse, cow, sheep, dog, cat and rat in the hardened form called spores.
It is very resistant to harsh conditions such as heat by boiling and disinfection by chemicals.
However, the soil is the main reservoir of infection and the germ in the hardened form (spores) can remain active in the soil for months.
2. How does one get Tetanus?
The germ that causes tetanus (either in the soft form or hardened form called spores) enters the human body through open wounds due to cuts, burns, infection (especially ear infections), operation, childbirth, abortion, cutting of umbilical cord, tooth extraction etc. Once inside the human body, the spores change to the soft type and begin to produce the chemical that causes the body to contract by affecting the nerves.
The disease DOES NOT spread from human being to human being.
3. When Do You Suspect that You or someone May Have Tetanus?
In adults, there is generalized body pain, stiffness of the mouth with inability to open the mouth, swallowing is painful and hardening of the whole body following an open wound.
In newborn babies, after about 5-7 days of birth, the baby refuses to eat and there is generalized hardening of his body.
Suspect tetanus in the above scenarios and see a doctor immediately.
4. What Can Put You at Risk?
The following are at more risk of contracting the disease:
a. Babies of un-immunised mothers.
b. Industrial and agricultural workers who are prone to injuries.
c. Babies whose umbilical cords were cut with unsterilized instruments.
d. Babies whose cords were covered with cow dung or soil.
e. Un-immunised adults with simple injuries, even domestic injuries
5. What are Possible Complications of Tetanus?
Possible complications of tetanus whether treated or untreated include Respiratory failure, Pneumonia, Accumulation of fluid in the lungs, Sudden fall of blood pressure and Death.
6. Does the Environment play any Role?
Tetanus is more common in rural areas because exposure to soil which may contain the germs is higher. More baby deliveries by untrained birth attendants take place in the rural areas. Pregnant women in rural areas due to illiteracy and poverty are less likely to attend antenatal clinic during which they could be immunized against tetanus.
7. How can one prevent Tetanus?
Tetanus can easily be prevented by:
a. Immunisation of pregnant women.
b. Immunisation of infants
c. Immunisation of adults.
d. Delivery of pregnant women by medically skilled attendants.
e. Proper treatment of all wounds due to injuries or infection.