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Protect yourself against tetanus

Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that affects the nervous system. This serious bacterial infection leads to painful muscle cramping most noticeable in the neck and jaw.

This is the reason that a tetanus infection is sometimes referred to as “lockjaw.” In serious or untreated cause of tetanus, the bacteria can affect the muscles of respiration which can become life-threatening.

The good news is that in developed countries such as Canada, cases of tetanus infections are fairly rare. It is estimated that there are approximately one million cases worldwide each year.

The bacteria that causes tetanus is mainly found in animal feces, soil and dust. Most commonly, the bacteria enters the body through a deep flesh wound. Once in the body the bacteria produce a toxin that affects nerves which in turn causes muscle stiffness and spasm.

The signs and symptoms of tetanus usually appear within weeks of when the bacteria first entered the body. The average incubation period is seven or eight days. Common symptoms of tetanus include spasms and stiffness in your jaw, neck and abdominal muscles, difficulty swallowing, fever, sweating and rapid heart rate.

It is important to see your doctor if you sustain a deep or dirty wound and haven’t had a tetanus booster shot within the past five years.

Puncture wounds such as stepping on a rusty nail are the most common way of contracting a tetanus infection. Gunshot wounds, severe burns and surgical wounds may also increase your risk of tetanus.

If you have a minor wound, there are a few simple steps to take in order to minimize you chance of getting tetanus.

Firstly, keep the wound clean. Rinse the wound thoroughly with clean running water and clean the sounding area with soap. Next, apply a thin layer of antibiotic cream or ointment if it is available.

This help discourage and bacteria from growing. Also, covering the would will help to keep it clean and keep debris out. Apply a new dressing at least once a day or if it gets dirty or wet.

There is no cure for tetanus. The goal of treatment is to manage the signs and symptoms until the effects of the toxin subside. Once diagnosed with tetanus, your doctor may give you a tetanus antitoxin to help neutralize the toxin. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to fight the tetanus bacteria. Powerful sedatives and other medications are usually used to control the muscle spasm. Unfortunately, tetanus infections usually require a lengthy and intensive treatment period.

In developed countries, tetanus is prevented through immunization. The tetanus vaccine is usually administered to children during routine childhood vaccinations. It is recommended that adults get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years.

Doctors usually suggest that you make sure your tetanus immunity is up to date if you are planning on travelling to a developing country where tetanus is more prevalent. 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding tetanus or vaccinations, it is best to consult with your family doctor. Until next month, drive safely. 


Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.

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