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Tetanus – What You Need to Know About This Bacterial Infection
- Have you heard of tetanus?
- Tetanus is deadly bacterial infection that can be prevented from vaccines.
- Learn all about tetanus this National Immunization Awareness Month!
MPH, MSN, WHNP-BC
What Is Tetanus?
August in National Immunization Awareness Month. As part of this month, let’s dive into the world of tetanus, a bacterial infection that was once extremely widespread worldwide. Now, as a result of vaccines, tetanus rates have dropped significantly.
Tetanus is an infection that occurs when someone is exposed to the Clostridium tetani bacteria. When this bacterium enters the body, it is extremely harmful and toxic. Clostridium tetani causes severe muscle contractions, particularly in the neck and jaw. That’s why another name for tetanus is “lockjaw.”
If left untreated, it can lead to severe complications and death. Because of vaccines, most cases are found in developing countries compared to developed countries.
However, with a growing population hesitant towards vaccines, nurses and other health care professionals need to be aware of this serious infection.
How Does Someone Get Exposed to Clostridium Tetani?
This bacteria can be found in soil, dust, and feces and enter the body through cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects. Some contaminated objects include nails, wood, and manufacturing equipment.
It is important to note that it is not transmitted via respiratory or skin-to-skin routes.
Also, good wound care and infection prevention practices can help prevent tetanus infection. Common infection prevention practices include good handwashing techniques and treating wounds upon discovery.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Tetanus?
The signs and symptoms are:
- Intense muscle spasms and stiff, immovable muscles in the jaw
- Tension of muscles around lips
- Painful spasms and rigidity in your neck muscles
- Problems talking and swallowing
How Is Tetanus Diagnosed and Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for tetanus and no test for tetanus. The only way to prevent a tetanus infection is with the vaccine.
How Can I Learn About the Tetanus Vaccine?
Because of the dangers associated with tetanus, there are several vaccine options to prevent this infection.
In America, there are four types of vaccines that prevent against tetanus. These vaccines help protect against tetanus and also provide protection against other diseases:
- DTaP protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (also known as whooping cough)
- DT protects against diphtheria and tetanus
- Td protects against tetanus and diphtheria
- Tdap protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
DTap, DT, and Td vaccines are often for pediatric patients. The Tdap vaccine is for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults should receive a Tdap booster every ten years.
As nurses, we are exposed to several types of infections in our work. It is important to make sure you are up-to-date with your vaccines and also able to educate your patients on this as needed.
What Can I Do to Raise Awareness About Tetanus?
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and tetanus is one of the most common infections prevented by immunizations.
Often times, there can be mixed messages people see on social media and from their community members regarding vaccines.
Nurses are the most trusted profession for a reason. Patients often turn to nurses for medical information since there can be so many uncertainties about health care, medication, and more.
Some ways you can raise awareness about the tetanus vaccine and other vaccines include:
- Reviewing patients’ immunization records
- Educating patients on immunizations during each encounter
- Providing educational materials
- Addressing any concerns patients have about vaccines
- Offering immunizations during that visit (if available)
- Discussing with nursing management on any immunization efforts at your workplace for both patients and staff
The Bottom Line
Vaccines are a public health milestone and have saved the lives of millions of people. However, they are also a sensitive topic for many patients.
During this National Immunization Awareness Month, it is essential to recognize and understand the nursing role to inform, educate, and support vaccine efforts.
It is also important for nurses to recognize that there are several reasons why someone would not want a vaccine. There are people who have had negative experiences with the health care system, people with cultural differences, people who have religious beliefs, or people who have certain medical conditions.
If you are concerned about immunizations, vaccines, and public health, I would encourage you to investigate the Association of Public Health Nurses or the American Nurses Association. You can also learn about the significant contributions of immunizations by reading the American Journal of Preventive Medicine or the Journal of Issues in Nursing.
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