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How are Tetanus and Lockjaw Related?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2014
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Tetanus and lockjaw are related because they both describe the same disease. Tetanus originates from the Clostridium tetani bacteria, which frequently enters the body through cuts, improper care of the umbilical cord, or puncture wounds. The result is a progressive illness that causes tightening of the muscles in first the face, then in the rest of the body.

During a tetanus illness patients can be racked with painful muscle spasms called tetany. They may also experience great difficulty breathing as most muscles and joints are now limited by their tight contraction. High fever and death may result even in those treated.

Lockjaw can be used interchangeably with tetanus to describe the illness, or it may refer to a particular symptom of the illness. Most frequently in tetanus, the tightening of muscles leads to inability to use the jaw to chew or to swallow. This may have been noted first in horses because they are also vulnerable to the disease. Horses with lockjaw could not eat, thus hastening their demise.

Humans with lockjaw caused by tetanus, have other feeding options, like nasal-gastric tubes, or intravenous nutrition, so starvation is rarely the cause of death in treated tetanus. However, the jaw locking up and resisting movement is the most common symptom associated with tetanus, hence the alternate name.

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Lockjaw can also be a symptom of conditions besides tetanus. For example, injury to the jaw can produced the locked and stiffened state. Those who have difficulties with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) may also find the jaw occasionally locks up, making the mouth difficult to either open or close. However, usually the term applies directly to tetanus.

Tetanus is preventable through vaccination. In developed countries, children get their first tetanus vaccination a few weeks after birth. They then receive several booster vaccinations in childhood. Developing countries cannot always afford to vaccinate, and one of the leading causes of tetanus death in such countries is infection of the umbilical cord stump, which has a 60% death rate when tetanus is contracted.

Adults and teenagers who get a deep cut or puncture wound are routinely re-vaccinated for tetanus, as vaccination can prevent the disease even after one has received a cut or wound. However, vaccinations need to be repeated every ten years to preserve immunity.

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Bertie68
Post 4

We have been studying tetanus/lockjaw in my health class. There are two main kinds of tetanus disease. The general kind is the most common. It starts either when you are injured from a cut or puncture wound and the bacteria gets in. Or, a drug user might get infected from using dirty needles.

The first symptoms are a locked jaw, muscle stiffness, fever and sweating. This can last for at least four weeks. We saw some pictures in class and I felt so sorry for the patients.

This next type is really sad - neonatal tetanus.

The babies' mothers are not immunized. They live in developing countries. When the babies are born, the umbilical cord might be cut with a dirty object. They have no immunity from their mothers so they can't fight the disease. Most of these babies die, but go through the symptoms of tetanus - such a tragedy.

Misscoco
Post 3

@anon115881 - I'm not sure about the answer to your question. But, I would think that animals would get tetanus the same way humans do. I would think that the Clostridium tetani bacteria would have to enter their body through a cut or other injury.

I wonder why it's so common for horses to get infected with tetanus? And, when they got lockjaw, the poor horses couldn't eat and many died. I'm sure veterinarians give animals shots for tetanus now.

anon115881
Post 2

Is tetanus or lockjaw contagious in animals?

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