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"How do you know if you have tetanus?"


I cut my hand on some rusted carpet nails when I was helping my friend remodel his new house. Is there a possibility I could get tetanus from it? What are the symptoms of tetanus? Is it like a sickness or is it something that happens to the cut?


Tetanus is a disease process caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani. Clostridium is a gram positive bacillus (the type of bacteria) which means that for it to have a toxin, it has to excrete it (exotoxin) vs a gram negative bacteria typically has an endotoxin. Another important thing about Clostridium is that is an obligate anaerobe (meaning that it only grows in situations where there's no oxygen), and it forms spores.

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All of this is important, because a tetanus infection happens when a foreign body with tetanus spores gets pushed deep into the tissues (like stepping on a nail). Once deep in the tissues, there is little to no oxygen around, so the spore can grow into bacteria, which then start to secrete the tetanus exotoxin. The toxin causes "tetany" or tight contraction of muscles (like a cramp that never gets better). It tends to affect the jaw muscles, which is why the disease has the nickname "lockjaw". If it gets bad enough to involve the muscles of breathing, it can lead to death. The best way to prevent this, is with the tetanus vaccine. Because the consequences can be significant, I would talk to your primary care physician and make sure that you are up to date with you tetanus booster. Best of luck.

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