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Tetanus Symptoms and Side Effects

Posted Apr 16 2010 5:38am


Introduction

As a young kid who enjoyed watching cartoons every Sunday morning, this character called Trap-Jaw (from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) was the one I found most spooky. Skeletor didn't bother me that much, and Orko was a real pain in the you-know-what.

However, the idea of being able to bite through anything was just as fascinating and seemed to hold great prominence in my list of things that I should be able to do when I grew up.

And today, when glancing through the medical condition of tetanus, the connection back to my childhood was made. It's strange (and rather fascinating) how the mind conjures up similar images that might not necessarily having anything to do with, in this case, lock-jaw.

Tetanus And its Symptoms

My mother (just like any concerned mom) would often scream at me when I was a kid, as playing and getting hurt was a 'normal thing'. And almost every time she used to tell me to clean the wounds and disinfect them or else I would get tetanus.

As a kid, it didn't seem serious enough as everyone else also got hurt and nothing happened to them. However, if one does see the painting by Sir Charles Bell in 1809 that depicts a patient displaying muscular spasms from tetanus, perhaps that nonchalance will take a serious turn. To say the least, it's scary (especially if you understand what 'opisthotonus' is) even though only 11% of the reported case of tetanus are fatal these days!

As defined medically, tetanus is a disease of the nervous system (often fatal) caused by nerve toxins that are produced by the bacteria known as Clostridium tetani, that infects the body due to a deep cut or puncture wound caused by insect bites, rusty nails and wooden splinters.

What doesn't help our cause is that this bacteria is commonly found in the soil as well as in the intestines of humans and animals, and can only be prevented by immunization.

The tetanus bacteria multiply in the presence of dead tissue (due to a deep cut) and as the infection progresses, muscle spasms occur in the jaw (that is why it is known as lock-jaw) and in other parts of the body as well. In some cases, the muscles that are used for breathing can often spasm which can lead to death due to a lack of oxygen.

Its Treatment

Even though immunization is the only way by which one can prevent the disease,  there are ways by severe tetanus can be treated:

1) human tetanus immunoglobulin is inject intrathecally

2) tracheostomy and mechanical ventilation for 3 to 4 weeks

3) an intravenous infusion of magnesium that will prevent muscle spasms

4) continuous IV infusion of diazepam

Both point 3 and 4 help relax the muscles, while proper nutrition (a high calorie diet of 3500-4000 calories a day loaded with protein) and maintaining an airway is also important in ensuring the patient's survival while also regenerating destroyed nerve axon terminals.

In Closing

One interesting aspect of tetanus is that even though it is infectious, it isn't contagious from human to human but nonetheless is so toxic that even though you've survived one tetanus attack, there is no guarantee that the immune system will protect the next time around.

And no matter how insignificant people might think it is, the ability to do what Trap-Jaw (to bite well) is a skill I would like to keep with me until the day that I die.

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