International travel and health

Tetanus

Cause

The bacterium Clostridium tetani (C. tetani)

Transmission

Tetanus is acquired through exposure to the spores of C. tetani which are present in soil worldwide. The disease is not communicable.

Nature of the disease

The disease is caused by the action of a potent bacterial neurotoxin released from wounds contaminated by C. tetani. Clinical symptoms are muscle spasms, initially of the muscles of mastication causing trismus or “lockjaw”. Trismus can be followed by sustained spasm of the back muscles (opisthotonus) and by spasms of other muscles. Generalized tetanic seizures will ultimately lead to death unless intense supportive treatment is rapidly initiated.

Geographical distribution

Wounds can become infected with the spores of C. tetani anywhere in the world.

Risk for travellers

Every traveller should be fully vaccinated against tetanus. Almost any form of injury, from a simple laceration to a motor-vehicle accident, can expose the individual to the spores.

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