A serious, sometimes fatal, disease of the central nervous system caused by infection of a wound with spores of the bacterium. The spores live mainly in soil and manure but are also found elsewhere, including in the human intestine. When the spores infect poorly oxygenated tissues they multiply and produce a toxin that acts on the nerves controlling muscle activity. The most common symptom of this is trismus (commonly known as lockjaw). Other symptoms include stiffness of the abdominal and back muscles, and contraction of facial muscles, producing a fixed grimace. There may also be a fast pulse, slight fever, and profuse sweating. Painful muscle spasms then develop, and may result in asphyxia if they affect the larynx or chest wall. The spasms usually subside after 10 to 14 days. About half a million cases of tetanus occur worldwide each year, but fewer than 20 occur in the UK. The diagnosis is made from the symptoms and signs, and a course of tetanus antitoxin injections is started. Most people recover completely if treated promptly. Prevention of tetanus in the UK relies on the DPT vaccination being given routinely during childhood; booster shots are given every 10 years.


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