An often fatal infectious disease caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani (C. tetani) which usually enters the body through a puncture, cut, or open wound. Tetanus is characterized by profoundly painful spasms of muscles, including "locking" of the jaw so that the mouth cannot open (lockjaw). C. tetani releases a toxin that affects the motor nerves, (the nerves which stimulate the muscles). Prevention of tetanus is by immediately cleaning and covering any open wound, and by vaccination. ALL children should be immunized against tetanus by receiving a full series of 5 DPT vaccinations ("baby shots") which generally are started at 2 months of age and completed at about 5 years of age. Follow-up booster vaccination is recommended every 10 years thereafter (e.g. 15 years old, 25 years old, etc.) While a 10-year period of protection exists after the basic childhood series is completed (at age 5), should a potentially contaminated wound occur during the second half of this block of time (i.e., at age 5 to 10), an "early" booster may be given and the 10-year "clock" is then reset. Unvaccinated people who get a puncture wound or cut should get tetanus immunoglobulin and a series of tetanus shots immediately. People who have been immunized but are unsure of when their last tetanus shot was should get a booster.
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1. A disease marked by painful tonic muscular contractions, caused by the neurotropic toxin (tetanospasmin) of Clostridium tetani acting upon the central nervous system. Cf.:lockjaw, trismus. 2. A sustained muscular contraction caused by a series of nerve stimuli repeated so rapidly that the individual muscular responses are fused, producing a sustained tetanic contraction. See emprosthotonos, opisthotonos. [L. fr. G. tetanos, convulsive tension]
- acoustic t. experimental t. induced by a faradic current, the speed of which is estimated by the pitch of the vibrations.
- cephalic t. a type of local t. that follows wounds to the face and head; after a brief incubation (1–2 days) the facial and ocular muscles become paretic yet undergo repeated tetanic spasms. The throat and tongue muscles may also be affected. SYN: cerebral t..
- cerebral t. SYN: cephalic t..
- complete t. t. in which stimuli to a particular muscle are repeated so rapidly that decrease of tension between stimuli cannot be detected.
- drug t. tonic spasms caused by strychnine or other tetanic. SYN: toxic t..
- generalized t. the most common type of t., often with trismus as its initial manifestation; the muscles of the head, neck, trunk and limbs become persistently contracted, and then painful paroxysmal tonic contractions (tetanic seizures) are superimposed; the high mortality rate (50%) is due to asphyxia or cardiac failure.
- incomplete t. t. (2) in which each stimulus causes a contraction to be initiated when the muscle has only partly relaxed from the previous contraction.
- local t. the most benign type of t.; the muscles in close proximity to an infected wound develop persistent involuntary contractions, often with transient, intense superimposed spasms triggered by various stimuli. The more distal upper extremity muscles are most often affected; gradual but complete recovery is typical.
- neonatal t. SYN: t. neonatorum.
- t. neonatorum t. occurring in newborn infants, usually due to infection of umbilical area with Clostridium tetani, often a result of ritualistic practices; has high fatality rate (about 60%). SYN: neonatal t..
- postpartum t. SYN: puerperal t..
- puerperal t. t. occurring during the puerperium from infection of the obstetric wound. SYN: postpartum t., uterine t..
- Ritter opening t. the tetanic contraction that occasionally occurs when a strong current, passing through a long stretch of nerve, is suddenly interrupted.
- toxic t. SYN: drug t..
- traumatic t. t. following infection of a wound.
- uterine t. SYN: puerperal t..

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tet·a·nus 'tet-ən-əs, 'tet-nəs n
1 a) an acute infectious disease characterized by tonic spasm of voluntary muscles and esp. of the muscles of the jaw and caused by the specific toxin produced by a bacterium of the genus Clostridium (C. tetani) which is usu. introduced through a wound compare LOCKJAW
2) prolonged contraction of a muscle resulting from a series of motor impulses following one another too rapidly to permit intervening relaxation of the muscle

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an acute infectious disease, affecting the nervous system, caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Infection occurs by contamination of wounds by bacterial spores. Bacteria multiply at the site of infection and produce a toxin that irritates nerves so that they cause spasmodic contraction of muscles. Symptoms appear 4-25 days after infection and consist of muscle stiffness, spasm, and subsequent rigidity, first in the jaw and neck then in the back, chest, abdomen, and limbs; in severe cases the spasm may affect the whole body, which is arched backwards (see opisthotonos). High fever, convulsions, and extreme pain are common. If respiratory muscles are affected, a tracheostomy or intubation and ventilation is essential to avoid death from asphyxia. Mortality is high in untreated cases but prompt treatment is effective. An attack does not necessarily confer complete immunity. Immunization against tetanus is effective but temporary.
tetanic adj.

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tet·a·nus (tetґə-nəs) [Gr. tetanos, from teinein to stretch] 1. an acute, often fatal infectious disease caused by the bacillus Clostridium tetani, which produces the exotoxins tetanospasmin and tetanolysin; it usually enters the body through a contaminated puncture wound such as from a metal nail, wood splinter, or insect bite, although other portals of entry include burns, surgical wounds, ulcers, and the umbilical stump of neonates. 2. a state of sustained muscular contraction without periods of relaxation caused by repetitive stimulation of the motor nerve trunk at frequencies so high that individual muscle twitches are fused and cannot be distinguished from one another; called also physiological t., tetanic or tonic contraction and tetanic or tonic spasm.

Medical dictionary. 2011.

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