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Tetanus

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Organism, Causative Agent, or Etiologic Agent
Tetanus is a disease of the nervous system caused by toxins released by the Clostridium tetani bacteria.

Transmission
The tetanus bacterium enters the body through a break in the skin. Tetanus may follow elective surgery, burns, deep puncture wounds, crush wounds, otitis media (ear infections), dental infection, animal bites, abortion, and pregnancy. Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person.

Symptoms (Clinical Illness)
Tetanus mainly affects the neck and abdomen. Tetanus is also known as “lockjaw” because it often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. It also can cause breathing problems, severe muscle spasms, and seizure-like movements. Complete recovery can take months. If left untreated, tetanus can be fatal.

Incubation Period
Usually 3–21 days, although it may range from 1 day to several months, depending on the type, severity, and location of the wound; average 10 days. Most cases occur within 14 days. In general, shorter incubation periods are associated with more heavily contaminated wounds, more severe disease and a worse prognosis.

Communicability
Tetanus is not transmitted from one person to another. A person with tetanus is not infectious to others.

Prevention and Vaccination
Proper wound care and keeping up to date with tetanus immunizations are the best prevention for tetanus. Persons suspected to be infected with tetanus will often be given immune globulin intramuscularly to slow the progress of the disease. Otherwise treatment includes bed rest and quiet conditions and treating the complications of the diseases.

Recent Texas Trends
Tetanus is rare in Texas. People who have never been vaccinated or who have not had a booster in recent years are at highest risk for tetanus. In the past five years, Texas has had a total of 11 cases: two cases in 2013, four cases in 2014, two cases in 2015, two cases in 2016, and one case in 2017.
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Last updated April 25, 2019