Tetanus is characterized with continuous muscle spasms and rigidity that happens at frequent intervals and lasts up to several minutes. The onset of these spasms is very sudden, and they are very powerful and extremely painful. These spasms usually start in the muscles of the jaw this is known a lockjaw or trismus. They then gradually progress to the rest of the body in a descending order.
To know whether we can get tetanus from a scratch, let us first understand a bit about the causative organism of tetanus and how it works.
Tetanus is a rare yet deadly disease. An anaerobic organism called clostridium tetany is responsible for causing it. This organism is abundantly available in each and every part of the world. It is found in soil, dirt, manure and saliva. The spores of this bacterium get inside our body easily through a wound or an injury, even a small puncture. And the environment in a wound is very much suitable for this bacterium to grow. Once inside the body, the spores grow into the bacterium c. tetany and travel to the nervous system. There they adhere to the nerve ends. The nerves that are responsible for the muscular movements in our body get affected due to this and as a result, they cause uncontrolled spasms and rigidity or stiffness in various muscles of the body. This can result in severe damage in various systems and organs of our body.
Can you Get Tetanus From a Small Scratch?
Even if a wound or an injury is just skin deep, it still carries a risk factor of getting infected by tetanus especially, if the wound is unclean and has a lot of dirt in it. Also, a lack of past immunization against tetanus, proves to be equally potential a risk factor. As explained earlier, the spores of c. tetany can easily enter a wound as they are abundantly available everywhere. They just need a puncture to get inside the body, and a scratch is more than sufficient for them to do their work.
It is clear that tetanus is a serious and fatal condition, even though rare. Hence, any injury-scratch or deep, clean or dirty, should be brought to the notice of your healthcare provider, so that he can assess whether the wound is tetanus prone, and what measures are to be taken in order to prevent tetanus.
The most important and first of the symptoms of tetanus is lockjaw or trismus. Along with lockjaw, facial muscles can be affected, and they can result in a classic appearance known as risus sardonicus. In this condition, the affected person presents with arched eyebrows and a grinning, open mouth, which looks quite malevolent in appearance to the onlookers. The affected person, however, is totally oblivious to this fact. Another classic posture seen in tetanus is opisthotonos. In this condition, the back of the affected person is bridged backwards like a bow; due to the spasms and rigidity in the back muscles. It is quite a painful condition and can result in severe damage to the organs and affected systems.
The spasms occurring in tetanus are so severe that it may result in fracture of bones. Also, the spasms are very painful and sudden. It may even damage the spine to such extent as to cause paralysis.
Another major complication occurring during a tetanus infection is respiratory failure. As the muscles get spastic, the respiratory muscles can also get affected and cause respiratory failure. Because of reduced oxygen supply due to this reason, cardiac arrest can occur which will lead to death.
Pulmonary embolism is another major complication. A blood clot already present anywhere in the body can travel and get stuck in the main artery of lung, or even its branches. This will lead to the blockage of the lung artery.