Tetanus: When should one seek medical advice?

By  , Expert Content
Jul 07, 2012

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Tetanus is caused by spores of Clostridium tetani bacteria. It is a serious disease and can be fatal. After getting deposited in a wound, the spores multiply rapidly and produce a neurotoxin that interferes with nerves that control muscle movement. When tetanospasmin produced at the site of injury enters the bloodstream, it spreads rapidly around the body, and causes tetanus symptoms.

When to consult a doctor for tetanus

  • Immunisation: You can consult your doctor to know if your tetanus immunisation is overdue. Your primary-care physicians can review your immunisation record and tell if your tetanus vaccine is due. Tetanus booster shot has to be given every 10 years.
  • Wound: If you have a wound, consult your doctor. The spores of clostridium tetani are deposited in a contaminated wound. These spores multiply rapidly and produce a neurotoxin that has an adverse impact on nerves that regulate muscle movement. Cleaning of wound removes the dirt and prevents growth of tetanus spores. Cleaning of wound includes removing dirt, foreign objects and dead tissues from the wound. If you had received tetanus booster more than five years ago, you will be given tetanus vaccine.

When to go to the hospital

Minor wounds with mild degrees of contamination can be managed in most doctors’ clinic.

However, if your wound is large, contains crushed tissues, or is heavily contaminated, visit a hospital's emergency department for evaluation. You may be given both tetanus booster dose and tetanus antibodies if the wound appears to be tetanus-prone. TIG (tetanus immunoglobulin) should be given as soon as possible. TIG is usually given to people with incomplete immunisations with a tetanus-prone wound.

Visit a hospital if you develop any symptoms suggestive of tetanus after a recent injury. Some symptoms suggestive of tetanus include:

  • Muscle cramps, muscles soreness or spasm (generalised or localised).
  • Spasm of throat and neck muscle may make swallowing difficult.
  • Spasm and rigidity of facial muscles (jaw muscles that are responsible for chewing).
  • Muscle spasm near the site of the injury.

Who to consult

Some health professionals who can be consulted for tetanus include:

  • family doctor
  • physician
  • nurse practitioner, a nurse who has advanced training
  • physician assistant (a health professional who practices medicine under a doctor's supervision).



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