What Is Tetanus?

By james
Reviewed: Dr. Gromatzky
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The word “tetanus” comes from the Greek word “tetanos” meaning muscle spasm or tension. You may know tetanus by its more colloquial name, “lockjaw.” Both reflect what the disease does to the body. Its most notable symptoms are stiffness and spasm of the muscles, particularly in the upper body.

Tetanus is a serious and potentially deadly disease caused by a bacterial infection. Chances of dying from tetanus increase with age. Though there is no cure, it can be prevented through vaccination. These lose effectiveness over time, however, so you must receive boosters to maintain immunity.

1. What Causes Tetanus?

Tetanus is caused by an infection of Clostridium tetani bacteria. Spores of the bacteria are found throughout the environment. They are particularly prevalent in the manure of animals and in the soil. Ordinarily, your skin provides protection against the spores, preventing them from entering your body.

However, a wound or opening in the skin can allow the spores to enter the body, where they cause a bacterial infection. Full-grown C. tetani bacteria produce a substance called tetanospasmin. This is a neurotoxin that interferes with the signals traveling to the muscles from the nerves to the brain.


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