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Although tetanus can be fatal, the infection can be prevented by a simple vaccine that is usually given in doses over the lifetime of a person. In today's modern world, fatalities from tetanus only occur when a person has not been properly immunized against the tetanus causing bacterium.
Pathophysiology of Tetanus:
Tetanus is caused by a bacterium known as Clostridium tetani. It is an anaerobic bacterium that actually develops in environments that do not contain oxygen. Usually the tetanus causing bacterium is present in our environment. It is particularly prevalent in soil, animal feces and other unhygienic conditions. It can lie dormant for years in the form of spores.
When a person gets injured, the wound or the cut becomes an environment that lacks oxygen. If the spores manage to find their way into the wound or the cut, they are able to germinate. After the spores of the bacterium germinate, they release a toxin, which is what causes all the ill-effects of the disease.
The toxin attacks the nervous system of the body. The toxin, which is known as tetanospasmin, runs along the spinal cord, the blood stream of the peripheral nervous system and prevents the neuron from releasing the a neurotransmitter that helps the body muscles to relax after a contraction. That is why when a person gets tetanus, he or she suffers from severe spasms and contraction.
Slowly as the bacterium proliferates in the body, more and more toxin is produced and it manages to find its way to different groups of muscles. The toxin particularly affects the jaw muscles, the muscles of the back, arms, legs, neck and abdomen, and the muscles that control the diaphragm and the chest wall.
If a person is suspected of suffering from tetanus, treatment has to be started immediately. There should be no delay. The patient is administered medication to act on the toxin released by the bacterium, and also antibiotics are given. In case the person suffers from respiratory failure, he or she is put on a ventilation machine to facilitate breathing. However, the best treatment against tetanus is prevention. This is done via vaccination, which is usually given as part of the childhood immunization program and thereafter every ten years.
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