Tetanus is a bacterial infection that is usually introduced into the body through a puncture wound. The disease causes severe muscle spasms and is often fatal. It is estimated that there are 1,000,000 cases of tetanus per year, with 300,000-500,000 of these resulting in death.
Countries at risk
China, India, throughout Africa, and in certain South American countries including Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.
Tetanus is the only vaccine-preventable disease that is infectious but not contagious. As the disease is contracted through puncture wounds and burns, the easiest way to protect against it is to simply use common sense and avoid sticky situations! Tetanus is commonly associated with rusty nails, and while this may be a slight exaggeration, nails do provide the perfect entry point for the bacterium. Should you receive any injuries on your travels, be sure to seek medical attention – even if the wound doesn’t seem too bad, you may run the risk of contracting tetanus.
Tetanus can also be caused through intravenous drug use.
Signs and symptoms
Tetanus symptoms take time to develop, with the incubation period lasting between four and 21 days. The earliest symptom is lockjaw, a severe stiffness in the mandibular muscles which makes it very difficult to open your mouth. This stiffness, which is often accompanied by spasms, spreads to the neck and limbs over the following period of up to three days. It can become difficult to swallow, with severe cases causing difficulty in breathing, which can lead to suffocation.
Other symptoms include a high fever, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and heavy sweating.
Travellers to areas at risk may be recommended a single course injection of Revaxis, which also covers against diphtheria and polio. In the UK, the DTP vaccination against tetanus infection is part of the childhood immunisation schedule.