The National Academies

The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

Tetanus

Tetanus is a disease that affects the nervous system, characterized by painful muscle spasms, especially those of the jaw and neck. It is caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria, which produce a toxin that can impair the nerves that control muscles. The spores of these bacteria are plentiful in the environment and affect humans when they get trapped in dirty wounds and release toxins in the body.

Symptoms
At the onset of tetanus—after about 7 to 10 days—patients usually develop headaches and spasms in the jaw muscles. This can lead to “lockjaw,” or a tightening of the jaw, until the patient can no longer open his or her mouth or swallow. As the disease progresses, spasms occur in other muscles, and patients sometimes experience muscle dysfunction that resembles seizures. Infections should be treated immediately. Tetanus can be fatal, but an extensive vaccination effort worldwide has reduced its occurrence significantly.

Treatment
There is no cure for tetanus but medication can be used to ease its symptoms. Antibiotics are prescribed to fight the tetanus bacteria, and antitoxins can fight toxins that have not yet bonded to and affected nervous tissue. Sedatives and other medications can help regulate muscle activity and prevent spasms.

Prevention
Tetanus can easily be prevented by the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine, which is typically administered to young children. Adults should receive tetanus boosters every 10 years and international travelers should get them before leaving their home country. Other precautions include cleaning wounds carefully to remove dirt and foreign objects that may carry tetanus spores.

Sources:
http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/tetanus/en/index.html 
http://www.cdc.gov/tetanus/about/index.html
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tetanus/home/ovc-20200456

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What do you know about infectious disease?

True or False: The only way public health agencies can deal with infectious disease is to have good surveillance in place, wait for an outbreak to happen in a human population, and then rush to contain it.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    By identifying pathogens in the animals where they naturally live and monitoring those organisms as they move from animals into people, it may be possible to prevent deadly new infections of animal origin from entering and racing through human populations.

  • Correct!

    By identifying pathogens in the animals where they naturally live and monitoring those organisms as they move from animals into people, it may be possible to prevent deadly new infections of animal origin from entering and racing through human populations.

Infectious Disease Defined

Genetics

A branch of biology that studies heredity and variation in organisms.

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