Tetanus: Overview

Tetanus used to be a common cause of death, but is seldom seen now because of antibiotic treatment and vaccinations.  However, in an unvaccinated person over 60 who develops tetanus, mortality is in excess of 60% once the disease process begins, regardless of what treatments are begun at that time.

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Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of tetanus include irritability, headache, fever, and painful muscle spasms resulting in a condition called lockjaw.

Treatment and Prevention

Tetanus prophylaxis is essential in wounds.  Persons with uncomplicated wounds who have not been vaccinated for tetanus in the prior 5 years should receive a tetanus booster.  In complicated wounds – those that are particularly dirty or contain a large amount of devitalized tissue – tetanus vaccination should be updated after 5 years.

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