The most common sign of tetanus is lockjaw, or stiffened jaw muscles, Mayo Clinic states. The condition also causes spasms of the jaw and body, with the latter causing pain in short, recurrent bouts. Individuals may develop stiffness in neck and abdominal muscles or have trouble swallowing.
Tetanus symptoms usually manifest within 14 days of exposure, but they may appear as quickly as two days, according to MedicineNet. The condition may repeatedly trigger involuntary muscle contractions throughout the body and lead to headaches or general restlessness and irritability. Excessive constriction in respiratory muscles may interfere with breathing and increase the risk of fatality.
Tetanus is a deadly infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, MedicineNet notes. Puncture wounds, such as insect bites, splinters, burns and needle injection sites, act as gateways for tetanus bacteria, which overwhelm the nervous system by releasing toxins that trigger exaggerated muscular movement.
Monitoring and proper management of complications are essential until the patient recovers, states Mayo Clinic. Treatment is typically aimed at keeping the wound sterilized, halting the production of toxins and neutralizing their effects, and killing tetanus bacteria with antibiotics. Doctors may also administer drugs such as sedatives or beta blockers to reduce muscle contractions.
High vaccination rates make this disease extremely rare in the United States, according to Mayo Clinic. People who haven't been immunized or haven't received a tetanus boost shot within the previous 10 years have a high risk of developing the infection.