Tetanus is the medical name for the disease commonly known as lock-jaw. It is caused by the tetanus bacillus. This tiny but resistant germ gives off a poison that acts upon the nervous system and affects the muscles, causing violent spasms; often the jaw muscles are affected, causing locking of the jaws.
The tetanus germ commonly lives in the intestines of grass-eating animals, particularly horses and cattle. The bacteria leave the intestinal tract in the wastes of the animal. Thus they may be found in stables, farmyards, and in garden soil treated with animal manure.
The germs do not grow rapidly in the presence of oxygen of the air and do not, therefore, multiply to any extent in the soil. They can live in it however, by forming spores that are very resistant.
When a wound is contaminated by soil containing the bacteria they can then multiply and produce poison, particularly if the wound is a deep punctured one where there is a lack of oxygen. Wounds such as made by stepping on a nail or garden implement, or any other punctured wounds must always be suspect.
The first symptoms of tetanus usually appear, from 1 to 4 weeks after the infection has entered a wound. The most common early symptoms are stiffness of the neck muscles and painful spasms of the joints. Later in the disease, spasms of other muscles of the body may occur.
Can anything be done to prevent tetanus? you may ask. Quite a lot! Certain precautions can and should be taken. All scratches and cuts should be attended to immediately. No matter how trivial an injury appears, thorough cleansing is necessary.
Punctured or torn wounds, especially those soiled by dirt or those which have pieces of clothing or other matter forced into them require special attention by a doctor.
Immunization against tetanus is also of value. It may be carried out by two different methods, each having its appropriate use.
One method is to use Antitoxin. This can be used to give immediate protection. It produces passive immunization, a form of protection that lasts however for only a few weeks. This is very useful if given soon after a wound occurs, before damage has been done to the nerve tissue.
Another method is the use of Tetanus Toxoid. This produces protection against possible exposure to the disease some time in the future. It produces active immunity lasting a variable period, usually declining after some years. Your doctor will advise you about tetanus toxoid.