People seeking medical attention for an open wound will, inevitably, be asked if they are current on their tetanus booster. Tetanus is a bacterial disease which affects the nervous system.
Tetanus bacteria can be found in manure, soil and dust. The primary cause for an infection is skin being punctured by a contaminated object such as a nail or splinter. Tetanus is commonly referred to as “lockjaw” because the infection is characterized by jaw muscle spasms. Other symptoms include stiff neck and abdominal muscles, fever, elevated blood pressure, difficulty swallowing and rapid heart rate.
Only a small number of people are infected in the United States annually thanks, in part, to the extremely effective tetanus vaccine. People with a deep or dirty wound who haven’t received a tetanus vaccine in the last five years should seek medical attention as soon as possible after the injury for a tetanus booster.
“The tetanus vaccine is highly effective. I would recommend people receive the combination vaccine that includes pertussis, commonly called whooping cough. The vaccine is often referred to as the TDaP vaccine,” Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease said. “Adults lose protection against pertussis. There are up to a half million cases in the U.S. yearly , often not diagnosed.”
Use soap and water to clean all wounds to protect against infections, including tetanus. Wounds should be covered to aid the healing process. There is no cure for tetanus. Treatment includes proper wound care and addressing symptoms associated with the disease including antibiotics and sedatives.
“A person should seek medical evaluation of a very deep wound, especially if grossly contaminated. A large wound should be checked as well,” Dowell said. “If you can see tendons, ligaments or other deep tissue, have the wound analyzed. Otherwise, clean it, use triple antibiotic ointment for up to three days and cover the wound.”