With the summer holidays just around the corner, we are all looking forward to spending time with our families and friends. Whether you’re going away or staying home over the festive season, we usually like to kick off our shoes and enjoy the feel of the grass (or sand, for those of us who are lucky to get away) under our feet. We need to be careful though, to avoid cutting our feet on rusty nails or broken glass that could be lying around. A nasty infection like tetanus could ruin one’s well deserved break.
Tetanus, otherwise known as lockjaw, is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which is usually found in soil, dust and manure. It causes painful muscle spasms starting at the jaw and moving to the rest of the body. The spasms occur frequently for three to four weeks, and in some cases may become so severe that it causes bone fractures. Other symptoms include fever, headache, high blood pressure and heart palpitations.
A vaccine is available that can prevent infection. Wound treatment is also very important to ensure that other complications, like septicaemia, don’t occur. In cases where the wound is significant, both immunization and administration of the tetanus immune globulin is recommended.
If the wound is caused by old or rusted metal and immediately exposed to soil or dirt, it is important to get immunized as soon as possible. Especially in areas with a wet or humid climate where the bacteria is known to occur.
Treating the symptoms when they start can be achieved by taking medication to break the fever and relieve the pain. Muscle relaxants can help to control the spasms. Ten percent of reported cases end in death, as the spasms may affect the breathing of those infected. If the symptoms escalate and get severe, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
If you are planning a relaxing stroll or a hike in an unfamiliar environment, rather keep your shoes on and wear long pants if possible to avoid cuts and scratches. If you do get injured, rather be safe than sorry and get immunized as soon as possible.