Then all of a sudden you're outside, in the beautiful sunshine working on something that has been put on the burner for months, and you turn around and snag a nail or other sharp object that slips through your shoes.
Sadly, you're tagged with a possible pathogen because it pierced the skin. What do you do? Do you risk the chance of infection? Clean it up? Or, do you trudge down to the ER hoping that a Tetanus shot will not cause a significant outbreak of symptoms that could last a week?
Often called lockjaw, tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes painful muscle spasms and can lead to death. The tetanus vaccine has made tetanus a preventable disease. Thanks to its widespread use, lockjaw has become very rare in the U.S. Even so, many adults in the U.S. need to be vaccinated against tetanus because there is no cure and 10% to 20% of victims will die.
You cannot get tetanus from another person. You can get it through a cut or other wound. Tetanus bacteria are commonly present in soil, dust, and manure. The tetanus bacteria can infect a person even through a tiny scratch. But you are more likely to get tetanus through deep punctures from wounds created by nails or knives. The bacteria travel via blood or nerves to the central nervous system.
Tetanus symptoms result from a toxin produced by tetanus bacteria. Symptoms often begin around a week after infection. But this may range from three days to three weeks or even longer. The most common symptom is a stiff jaw, which can become "locked." This is how the disease came to be called lockjaw.
Symptoms of tetanus may include:
- Muscle stiffness, starting in the jaw, then the neck and the arms, legs, or abdomen
- Trouble swallowing
- Restlessness and irritability
- Sweating and fever
- Palpitations and high blood pressure
- Muscle spasms in the face, causing a strange-looking steady smile or grin
Are there any dangers or side effects associated with the tetanus vaccine?
It's important to know that, in general, the risk of problems from getting tetanus is much greater than from getting a tetanus vaccine. You cannot get tetanus from the tetanus shot. However, sometimes the tetanus vaccine can cause mild side effects. These may include:
- Soreness, redness, or swelling at the site of the injection
- Headache or body aches
What is the course of tetanus?
During a one- to seven-day period, progressive muscle spasms caused by the tetanus toxin in the immediate wound area may progress to involve the entire body in a set of continuous muscle contractions. Restlessness, headache, and irritability are common.
The tetanus neurotoxin causes the muscles to tighten up into a continuous ("tetanic" or "tonic") contraction or spasm. The jaw is "locked" by muscle spasms, giving the name "lockjaw" (also called "trismus"). Muscles throughout the body are affected, including the vital muscles necessary for normal breathing. When the breathing muscles lose their power, breathing becomes difficult or impossible and death can occur without life-support measures (mechanical ventilation). Even with breathing support, infections of the airways within the lungs can lead to death.
General measures to treat the sources of the bacterial infection with antibiotics and drainage are carried out in the hospital while the patient is monitored for any signs of compromised breathing muscles. Treatment is directed toward stopping toxin production, neutralizing its effects, and controlling muscle spasms. Sedation is often given for muscle spasm, which can lead to life-threatening breathing difficulty.
In more severe cases, breathing assistance with an artificial respirator machine may be needed.
The toxin already circulating in the body is neutralized with antitoxin drugs. The tetanus toxin causes no permanent damage to the nervous system after the patient recovers.
After recovery, patients still require active immunization because having the tetanus disease does not provide natural immunization against a repeat episode.
I was recently inundated with such a dilemma. I was painting a small portion of trim outside my house and stepped down only to land on a two-inch nail that penetrated my lower foot fairly deeply. Frustration arose as I am always overly careful to ensure such accidents don't happen.
After a long pity-party, I wiped the tears away and began an in-depth internet search to see the consequences of my issue. As you can rightly see, getting the tetanus shot far outweigh the chances of sweeping it all under the rug in hopes nothing will happen. Just reading about the hospitalization requirements, and its effects on the central nervous system, should lockjaw rear its ugly head was enough to grab my son and head to the nearest emergency room. I spent a week in the hospital last year with pancreatitis and decided not getting a tetanus shot would keep me up with reoccurring nightmares about that experience.
On the upswing you have 24 hours to get a tetanus shot. For me, it happened about 8 pm at dusk. But, in three hours my foot began to swell. I chose to hit the emergency room in the morning since I would not be able to handle a four hour emergency room visit in the wee hours of the morning. I would not suggest this for all, call your ER for instructions.
I can say there were no added symptoms for me, after the shot, which was a pleasant surprise! The needle only holds .5 ml of the vaccine which apparently wasn't enough to put a dent into my usual insane overall sensitivities. Plus, I had the added luxury of no nightmares plaguing me!
On a final note, I spoke to my boss about my experience. He informed me he had friend who died of lockjaw three days after being admitted to the hospital. So, I made the right choice:)