Tetanus - Description






Tetanus is rare in the United States. For many years, a vaccine (pronounced vak-SEEN) has been available to protect against the disease and the vast majority of American children receive the vaccine. A vaccine is a substance that causes the body's immune system to build up resistance to a particular disease. Cases of tetanus usually occur in adults who were never vaccinated against tetanus.

Only about one hundred cases of tetanus are reported in the United States each year. Of this number, about 70 percent occur in people over the age of fifty. Most of those who die of tetanus are over the age of sixty.

Central nervous system:
A system of nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Clostridium tetani :
The bacterium that causes tetanus.
Spasm:
A contraction of the muscles that can cause paralysis and/or shaking.
Toxin:
A poison.
Vaccine:
A substance that causes the body's immune system to build up resistance to a particular disease.

Tetanus causes muscular spasms (tightening of the muscles) that can cause paralysis of the respiratory (breathing) system and lead to death. The disease is sometimes called lockjaw. The name comes from a common symptom of tetanus in which the jaw muscles become tight and rigid and a person is unable to open his or her mouth.

Sometimes tetanus affects only one part of the body but usually the infection spreads throughout the body until the entire body becomes paralyzed. The incubation period for tetanus is anywhere from two to fifty days. The incubation period is the time between infection and the first appearance of symptoms. When symptoms occur early, the chance of death is increased.

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