Tetanus


Last updated Tetanus is another bacterial infection, this time caused by toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Infections are rare in the UK but complications can be serious and even fatal. The bacterium causing tetanus is very resilient and can live in the environment for many years. However, it only produces toxins in anaerobic conditions, which is why it is associated with deep wounds which cannot easily be reached by oxygen. Symptoms can include muscle spasms and stiffness (including in the jaw muscles – lockjaw), difficulty swallowing and fever. Symptoms can be limited to the injury site and not develop further. They can also be much more serious and lead to a quick death. Tetanus mortality, like that of other diseases, had already reduced by 90-100% in the UK and US by the time the vaccine was introduced and/or put into wider use. This was likely due to improvements in wound hygiene as well as other treatments. This suggests that the low risk of contracting tetanus would still be very low even if there was no vaccination. There is still very high mortality for infants contracting tetanus in the developing world but this is due to hygiene issues at birth.[1] Is the vaccine effective? In one 1993 study, 4 out of 5 children with tetanus were described as adequately vaccinated. [2] These 5 children, as well as 101 adults, were the only ones to get the disease in Finland over a 16 year period. The paper describes the symptoms as mild and implies this may have been due to the vaccinations, compared to the often unvaccinated population in the developing world. But this is a highly speculative statement, as the difference in hygiene and other living conditions is much more likely to be the reason. US data for all…

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