How Long Does Tetanus Take To Kill you?

Tetanus is a fatal bacterial infection, caused by the bacterium clostridium tetani. It is characterized by continuous muscle spasms, which may last for minutes. These are very painful, powerful and sudden contractions of the group of muscles in our body. It almost every time starts in the jaw and is known as lockjaw or trismus. These spasms affect the facial muscles as well, and it results in risus sardonicus- a condition where the eyebrows of the person are arched, the eyes are also affected and there is a grinning expression on the person’s face, with lips separated and teeth exposed. The expression is typical and may seem like an offending action. However, the person isn’t aware of any of this. It can be extremely painful and irritable, as the muscles contract and stay that way for quite long.

As this disease generally affects the muscles of the body, any muscles like those in the abdomen, back, chest, limbs and buttocks can be affected. When there is an involvement of back muscles, opisthotonos occurs. Opisthotonos is a condition where there is severe hyperextension and spasms in the person’s head, neck and spinal column.

How Long Does Tetanus Take To Kill you?

This arching is due to muscular actions. When these muscular actions are unnaturally prolonged, it results in very powerful, painful and sudden contractions of muscles. This is known as tetany. When these occur, they can cause bad muscle tearing and sometimes even lead to bone fractures.

Other symptoms generally include fever, excessive sweating, suffocation and a feeling of choking up, sometimes gagging, breathing difficulties, hand and foot spasms, drooling, heart problems like arrhythmia and even heart attack. Sometimes, uncontrolled urination and defecation can also be witnessed.

How Long Does Tetanus Take To Kill You?

The tetanus has many severe complications. As the skeletal muscles are involved, there is a severe spasm in almost all areas of the body. This means that all the organs including lungs and heart are at a risk. The bones can be broken as the spasms can be severe. The adverse effect on the respiratory system can cause difficulty in or stop breathing. This is called respiratory failure. Many times cardiac arrest can happen. These are the major causes of deaths related to tetanus.

Once a person is infected, it is only possible to give him symptomatic treatment for the disease, as there is no known cure for tetanus. This makes the disease extremely fatal and it can kill one in as short time as 4 to 10 days.

Tetanus is caused by the bacterium clostridium tetani. This bacterium is widely present in soil, saliva, manure and dust even. And it is also widely seen in hot and damp climates. However, it thrives in anaerobic environment and what better environment than a wound? Once it enters the wound, it starts metabolizing as it gets a favorable environment and begins to grow. From there, the tetanus toxin travels to the central nervous system. Now, the central nervous system controls the nerve impulses. The effect of the tetanus toxin is to hamper this function. If the nervous impulses are not checked, then there will be uncontrolled muscular spasms, which are characteristically produced in this disease.

It is possible to get this infection through surgery, though very rarely. Sometimes, it may happen through dental procedures, multiple fractures and even intramuscular injections, though these incidences are very rare. Animal bites are also a potential risk factor.

Though it is known to be linked to rust and specifically rusted nails, in reality the theory is actually different. Rust is a good place for a bacterium like c. tetani to make its house. And when a nail causes an injury, they are easily transferred to the body. However, a non-rusted nail has an equal potential to deliver these organisms, especially if it was lying in dust, soil or manure; as these may contain the bacterium.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 12, 2024

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