Tetanus is a serious infection caused by bacteria which produce a toxin that affects the brain and nervous system. An often fatal disease, it is present worldwide, to include Afghanistan, and normally occurs as a result of a wound being contaminated due to lack of proper care.
Tetanus is caused by bacterial infection. The infection must be treated quickly because it can be fatal if left untreated.
Children in Afghanistan are offered a vaccine to help protect them against the condition.
The bacteria that cause tetanus are found in soil, dust and manure. The germ usually enters the body through a wound or cut in the skin. Bacteria can also enter the body through animal bites, burns and using dirty needles to inject drugs.
Once inside the body, the bacteria multiply and release a poison that spreads through the bloodstream affecting the nervous system. This can cause muscle spasms and stiffness throughout the body – particularly in the neck, face, and jaw.
The time between getting the infection and the onset of symptoms is 4-21 days, usually averaging 10 days.
To help prevent a tetanus infection, cuts and wounds should always be cleaned thoroughly. Tetanus cannot be passed from person to person.
Tetanus symptoms are easily recognisable. Few other conditions cause painful muscle spasms like tetanus. A confident diagnosis can usually be made if someone has recently had a dirty wound and has painful muscle spasms and muscle stiffness. Stiffness often starts in the face, making it difficult to open the mouth or chew.
The muscle spasms then usually affect the neck and throat, which can make swallowing difficult. The spasm of facial muscles makes the patient look like he is smiling. Muscle stiffness in the neck and chest can make breathing difficult.
Other symptoms include a high temperature of 38C or above, headache, sore throat, sweating, rapid heartbeat, extreme sensitivity to touch, bleeding into the bowels, and diarrhoea.
Left untreated, tetanus can cause complications that can lead to death. Infants and the elderly are most at risk of death.
Prevention and treatment:
Dr Faridoon Joyenda, a Kabul-based physician, told Sada-e Azadi that tetanus can be prevented by vaccination. “In children under the age of seven, the tetanus vaccine is often administered as a combined vaccine, which includes vaccines against diphtheria and pertussis. For adults and children over seven, a combination of the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines is used,” he said. In cases where tetanus is suspected, Tetanus immunoglobulin should be given immediately. This is a solution that contains antibodies that kill the tetanus bacteria. In Afghanistan, you should take your baby or child to a health clinic for immunisation or make him available when health workers conduct door-to-door vaccination visits.