ID: 127
Category: Infection
CreatedBy: 1
UpdatedBy: 1
createdon: 02 Feb 2023
updatedon: 05 Apr 2023

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Author: Khoa Tran
Published Feb 02, 2023
Updated Apr 05, 2023

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Etymology and Pronunciation

Tetanus (tuh-tuh-nuhs)
tetanos - Greek for "taut"
Hippocrates, the Greek physician called it trismus -  for "lockjaw"

History of Tetanus

The first recorded case of tetanus dates back to the 5th century BCE, when Hippocrates described the symptoms of a disease that he called "spasms". Throughout history, tetanus was often associated with wounds and injuries, and it was commonly known as "wound disease". During the Middle Ages, it was believed that tetanus was caused by the influence of the planets and stars.

In the 1800s, the French physician Pierre-François Olive Rayer discovered that tetanus was caused by a specific bacterium, which he named Clostridium tetani. However, it wasn't until the late 1800s that the German physician Arthur Nicolaier isolated the bacterium and demonstrated its ability to cause tetanus in animals.

In 1884, the French physician and scientist Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine for tetanus, which he tested on animals and later on humans. The vaccine was made from a weakened form of the bacteria and was found to be effective in preventing tetanus.

In the early 20th century, researchers began to study the mechanisms of the disease and the toxins produced by the bacteria. They discovered that the bacterium produces a neurotoxin called tetanospasmin, which causes the muscle spasms and rigidity characteristic of tetanus.

Modern Understanding of Tetanus

Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is a serious bacterial infection, Clostridium tetani, that affects the nervous system and can cause muscle stiffness and spasms. This bacteria is commonly found in soil and manure and produces spores, which can enter the body through a wound and cause an infection and produces a potent toxin that affects the nervous system and causes muscle contractions.

The main symptoms of tetanus include muscle stiffness and spasms, which can lead to a rigid jaw (hence the name "lockjaw"), where the person is unable to open their mouth. Tetanus can also cause other muscle contractions throughout the body, making it difficult to move and speak. Other symptoms can include headache, fever, sweating, and high blood pressure. In severe cases, tetanus can cause seizures and respiratory failure.

Trismus vs Tetanus

Trismus (lockjaw) is not the same condition as tetanus. Tetanus is caused by a bacteria infection called Clostridium tetani, but Trismus can be caused by a variety of things: - Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ): TMJ is a condition that affects the joint connecting the jawbone to the skull. It can cause muscle stiffness, pain, and limited movement of the jaw. - Oral surgery: Oral surgery, such as wisdom teeth removal, can cause temporary trismus due to inflammation and swelling of the jaw muscles. - Head and neck cancer: Cancer of the head and neck can affect the muscles and nerves of the jaw, leading to trismus. - Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy used to treat head and neck cancer can cause scarring and tightening of the jaw muscles, resulting in trismus. - Trauma: Trauma to the jaw or face, such as a fracture or dislocation, can cause trismus due to muscle or nerve damage. - Neurological conditions: Certain neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease and cerebral palsy, can affect the muscles and nerves of the jaw, leading to trismus.

Causes of Tetanus

Tetanus is caused by a bacterial infection with the Clostridium tetani bacterium, which produces a toxin that affects the nervous system. The bacteria are commonly found in soil, dust, and animal feces, and can enter the body through a wound or cut. Tetanus is often associated with injuries that occur outdoors or in unhygienic conditions, such as puncture wounds, animal bites, and contaminated surgical instruments. It is important to note that tetanus is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

Treatments for Tetanus

Fortunately, tetanus can be prevented through vaccination. The vaccine is called tetanus toxoid and can be given alone or in combination with other vaccines. In some cases, if a person is not fully vaccinated, they may need to receive tetanus immune globulin after a wound infection to help prevent the development of tetanus.

A series of shots is usually given in childhood, with booster shots recommended every 10 years. It is also important to keep up to date with vaccinations, especially if you have a deep wound or injury. Prompt treatment with a tetanus shot and antibiotics can help to prevent the progression of the disease and reduce the risk of serious complications.

It is important to properly care for wounds to reduce the risk of tetanus infection. This includes keeping the wound clean and covered, and in some cases, taking antibiotics to prevent infection. If a person does develop tetanus, treatment may include muscle relaxants, sedation, and intubation for ventilation. Wounds may also need to be debrided, or cleaned, to remove all dead tissue.

Intensive care may be needed for severe cases of tetanus, and pain management is also important. Other treatments may include the administration of tetanus antitoxin, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and medications such as magnesium sulfate, diazepam, chlorpromazine, and procaine.

Seek medical care in the following cases:
- You have a severe cut, an animal bite, a foreign object in your wound, or a puncture wound.
- You've gone ten years without receiving a tetanus vaccination.


Muscle stiffness (especially in the jaw)
Muscle spasms
Muscle stiffness
Difficulty swallowing
Rigid abdominal muscles

Confirmation Tests

- Physical examination