Rusty Nail and Tetanus

It is commonly advised that people should avoid rusty nails because they are dangerous. One of the most common beliefs is that piercing the skin with a rusty nail can cause you to develop tetanus or lockjaw. Tetanus is referred to as lockjaw because the initial symptoms of the disease will cause the muscles around the mouth to become rigid. Over time, these symptoms will spread, causing fever, sweating, irritability, drooling and difficulty moving. Tetanus can be deadly, so doctors offer a vaccine that is meant to be updated every 10 years to help prevent the disease. Even if you are up to date on these shots it is important to understand how you can contract tetanus so you can take proper steps to avoid it.

Will I Get Tetanus If I Stepped on a Rusty Nail?

It is possible to contract tetanus if you are cut by a rusty nail. Tetanus is caused by the clostridium tetani bacteria which are commonly found in dust, soil and animal feces. Because these items are commonly found around areas like gardens or work sites where rusty nails are present, the general belief that rusty nails cause tetanus was born. It is important to note that it is not so much the rust on the nail that causes people to contract tetanus, but the fact that nails can cause deep wounds that make it easier for the tetanus infection to spread. Nails that have been outdoors long enough to rust have are also more likely to have been exposed to elements that will cause tetanus to flourish.

What Are Other Causes of Tetanus?

C. tetani bacteria only reproduce in an area that is oxygen-deprived. Puncture wounds, such as those caused by nails, provide an area that is closed off from the air that is ideal for these bacteria to grow. Once they start reproducing, the bacteria release a toxin called tetanospasmin that causes the spasms and muscle contractions associated with the disease. Any type of injury that causes a deep puncture wound, including knife cuts, gun injuries or being stabbed deeply by a needle can put you at risk for developing tetanus if you have been exposed to the bacteria. The first symptoms of a tetanus infection will appear 7-21 days after the initial infections.

Surface injuries like scratches may also put you at risk of developing tetanus. Those that have been scratched by tools or branches, bitten by an animal, performed their own tattooing or used drugs that require needles are at risk for developing tetanus.

what to Do If I Stepped on Rusty Nail: Prevent Getting Tetanus

What to do if you step on a nail and are afraid to get Tetanus? Tetanus vaccines are available to help the body fight off the bacteria that causes this infection. Patients as young as two months are able to receive a tetanus shot. These shots will be given in a series of five treatments, placed in the arm of the thigh. As children get older they should get a follow up booster between the ages of 11-18 depending on when the initial treatment was administered. Adults should get an additional booster every 10 years to keep their medication up to date.

If you have received a wound that could potentially cause you to become infected with C. tetani bacteria, it is important to get it checked out by your doctor right away. The sooner a wound is treated, the more likely it is that you will be able to overcome the disease with no trouble.

What Are Treatments for Tetanus?

There are no lab tests to help your doctor diagnose a tetanus infection. To help determine whether or not you may be infected with the disease, your doctor will ask you questions about the nature of your injury and your medical history. They will check for common symptoms of the disease such as muscle spasms, pain or stiffness. Your doctor may perform tests to determine that diseases with similar symptoms such as rabies, meningitis or strychnine poisoning are not causing your difficulties.

Tetanus bacteria are resistant to antiseptics that are typically used to clean wounds. A special medication known as tetanus immune globulin is used to help kill these bacteria before it can circulate through the body and attach to the nerve endings, causing the symptoms of the tetanus disease. Those that do not have an up to date vaccine will be given one to help combat the disease more effectively.

Seeking treatment right away is essential to preventing the disease from taking hold. If you have begun to show symptoms of the disease, muscle relaxers sedatives or taking the time to allow your nervous system to recuperate is essential to managing the disease.

What If I Didn't Get Treatment?

Without treatment, one fourth of people infected by tetanus will die. This rate is even higher for newborns that are infected with this disease. However, patients that receive proper treatment quickly have a less than ten percent chance of dying. Wounds that occur on the face or head have a higher risk of developing the disease than other parts of the body. Those that manage to overcome the acute illness are considered to have recovered. If episodes of hypoxia cause intense muscle spasms in the throat this can lead to brain damage that cannot be corrected.


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