Causes of Tetanus

Tetanus infection occurs when the spores of the disease causing bacteria enter the body through an open wound, an animal or insect bite, a burn or snow bite contaminated by dust, soil or animal waste. It is not contagious and it cannot be transferred from one person to another. The bacteria may be in the form of spores in the soil for years and remain inactive but become infectious once it is activated.

Causes of Tetanus Include:

  • Deep wounds that are contaminated and not cleaned properly
  • Dead necrotic tissue around wounds can be breeding grounds for the bacteria.
  • Surgical needles that are not sterilized properly can cause tetanus infection after a surgery.
  • Rusty nails or splinters can harbor dormant spores.
  • Dust from old farmyard furniture in barns with dormant spores may contaminate open wounds
  • Walking barefoot in animal pens or stables and exposing skin lacerations or abrasions to animal waste can increase the risk of contracting tetanus.
  • Rusty blades or razors used for shaving can result in nicks and cuts which may prove fatal.

These can all be the causes of tetanus infection and for the introduction and growth of the deadly bacteria in the body. Once the bacteria start multiplying in the body, they produce a powerful nerve toxin which binds to the motor nerves of the body and alters the interaction between the muscles and the nerves, affecting the signal for muscles to tighten.

Risks of tetanus infection are higher for those who work in farmyards with animals as the chances of stepping on a nail or exposing a skin abrasion to possible sources of tetanus spores are higher. Burn victims, diabetics with ulcers or gangrene in the foot, and those with chronic skin problems like skin ulcers, abscesses and psoriasis, run the risk of contracting tetanus more and should ensure that they get their booster doses of the vaccine on time. Booster doses are required at least once in ten years for everyone to maintain immunity against the bacteria. They are also given before surgery, dental extractions and to expectant mothers. People who abuse drugs or have a heroin or cocaine addiction are more prone to tetanus infection than others as the likelihood of using unsterile syringes is high. Burn victims also run the risk of contracting tetanus with the contamination of their open wounds.

Frequently asked questions
  1. Amy Million, Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of tetanus, Primary Care Update for OB/GYNS, Volume 4, Issue 3, May–June 1997, Pages 75-79, ISSN 1068-607X, 10.1016/S1068-607X(97)00006-1.
  2. Warfield M. Firor, The prevention and treatment of tetanus, The American Journal of Surgery, Volume 46, Issue 3, December 1939, Pages 450-453, ISSN 0002-9610, 10.1016/S0002-9610(39)90303-X.