Organism, Causative Agent, or Etiologic Agent
Tetanus is a disease of the nervous system caused by toxins released by the Clostridium tetani bacteria.
The tetanus bacterium enters the body through a break in the skin. Tetanus may follow elective surgery, burns, deep puncture wounds, crush wounds, otitis media (ear infections), dental infection, animal bites, abortion, and pregnancy. Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person.
Tetanus mainly affects the neck and abdomen. Tetanus is also known as “lockjaw” because it often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. It also can cause breathing problems, severe muscle spasms, and seizure-like movements. Complete recovery can take months. If left untreated, tetanus can be fatal.
Proper wound care and keeping up to date with tetanus immunizations are the best prevention for tetanus. Persons suspected to be infected with tetanus will often be given immune globulin intramuscularly to slow the progress of the disease. Otherwise treatment includes bed rest and quiet conditions and treating the complications of the diseases.
School Exclusion Policy
While children diagnosed with or suspected of having tetanus need prompt medical attention, they do not need to be excluded from school or childcare. Rules for exclusion of sick children from school and childcare are outlined in the Texas Administrative Code, specifically Rule 97.7 for schools and Rule 746.3603 for childcare.
Recent Texas Trends
Tetanus is rare in Texas. People who have never been vaccinated or who have not had a booster in recent years are at highest risk for tetanus. In the past five years, Texas has had a total of eight cases, 1 case in 2009, no cases in 2010, 2 cases in 2011, 3 cases in 2012, and 2 cases in 2012. One of the three tetanus patients in 2012 died from the disease.