also known as lockjaw, is a serious but preventable disease
that affects the body's muscles and nerves. It typically
arises from a skin wound that becomes contaminated by a
Clostridium tetani, which is often found in soil.
bacteria are in the body, they produce a neurotoxin (a protein
that acts as a poison to the body's nervous system) known as
that causes muscle spasms. The toxin first affects nerves
controlling the muscles near the wound. It can also travel to
other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymph
system. As it circulates more widely, the toxin interferes
with the normal activity of nerves throughout the body,
leading to generalized muscle spasms. Without treatment,
tetanus can be fatal.
United States, most cases of tetanus follow a cut or deep
puncture injury, such as a wound caused by stepping on a nail.
Sometimes the injury is so small that it is never seen by a
doctor. Injuries that involve dead skin (such as burns,
frostbite, gangrene, or crush injuries) are more likely to
cause tetanus. Wounds contaminated with soil, saliva, or feces
- especially if not properly cleaned - and skin punctures from
nonsterile needles (such as with drug use or self-performed
tattooing or body piercing) are also at increased risk.
form of tetanus,
neonatal tetanus, occurs in newborns who are
delivered in unsanitary conditions, especially if the
umbilical cord stump becomes contaminated. Prior to
immunizations, neonatal tetanus was much more common in the
United States. Now, routine immunizations for tetanus produce
antibodies that mothers pass to their unborn babies. These
maternal antibodies and sanitary cord-care techniques have
made newborn tetanus very rare in developed countries.
tetanus in general is rare in the United States and other
nations with tetanus vaccination programs - fewer than 50
cases of tetanus have been reported each year in the United
States since 1995. However, many developing countries have no
effective prevention and immunization programs against
tetanus, so the disease is much more common there.