Many people are unaware of how lockjaw occurs and how it can be treated. It is a potentially lethal disease of the nervous system. Also known as tetanus it is caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This bacteria’s spores live in the soil and can be dangerous and infectious for up to 40 years. Worldwide, it causes up to one million deaths including those of newborns.
C.tetani enters the body through a puncture wound, perhaps one caused by a nail and through contact with soil. Once in the body, the bacteria produces a toxin that attacks the nerves that control the muscles, and causes severe spasming.
Lockjaw causes extreme stiffness and spasms of the muscles. It can be easily prevented with the tetanus vaccine with booster shots following.
The symptoms will manifest themselves between four and 25 days. At the beginning, the muscles will be painfully stiff and the jaw and neck will have spasms. Then, the abdomen, chest, back, and limbs will get affected. More symptoms will follow in the form of convulsions, high fever, restlessness, sore throat, chills, swallowing difficulties and severe pain. If left untreated lockjaw can kill, since the whole body will start spasming and breathing will become difficult leading to deprivation of oxygen and suffocation. These spasms can be powerful enough to tear the muscles or cause compression fractures of the spine.
You should be aware of these complications, and treat all puncture wounds with care—cleaning it with warm soapy water, applying an antiseptic cream, and covering the wound with a bandage. If the wound is deep and you have not had a tetanus vaccine in the last five years and any of the symptoms described above start manifesting themselves, then take medical treatment immediately.
You will be thoroughly examined by the physician at the hospital and will probably have a wound culture taken to test for the C.tetani bacteria. You will be given muscle relaxants to ease the muscle spasms and antibiotics for the infection. An antitoxin injection may help to slow down or stop the progress of the disease but the toxins that are already in your body may not be prevented from having their effect. You may be given oxygen if you have trouble breathing. Tetanus immune globulin will be administered to you so that the toxins are neutralized as much as possible. To control pain, analgesics are prescribed as are sedatives to reduce anxiety. The doctor may further ask for an MRI and ECG so he can evaluate the extent of the muscle damage you have undergone. Your wound will be cleaned to remove the source of the poison. You may require continued respiratory support.
Once you have overcome this episode you will have to continue to take a series of tetanus shots as suggested by the doctor because of reduced immunity to further infections. You must continue with your medication according to the prescription to avoid a relapse. Take as much rest as you need and curtail your activities for a few days after such an episode. Keep an eye on the puncture wound and if you observe signs of a return of the infection or any kind of swelling, pain, redness or drainage then seek medical help immediately. If the vaccination shot site is tender and stays red or swollen even after two days or you have a high fever then get a medical check up at once without delay.
Tetanus is preventable if you take your tetanus shots. Take your booster shots as well to keep safe.