Tetanus is caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which is found in soil, dust and animal feces. The bacteria produce a toxin that can lead to muscle spasms and paralysis.
Diagnosis is based on history, physical examination and laboratory testing. A Gram stain of the wound may be helpful, and a culture may be necessary to identify the bacteria causing the infection.
Tetanus must be differentiated from other causes of muscle spasms and paralysis, such as strychnine poisoning, botulism, and myasthenia gravis.
Treatment of tetanus involves the administration of an antitoxin to neutralize the toxin produced by the bacteria, antibiotics to kill the bacteria, and supportive care.
The prognosis for tetanus is good if it is treated early and aggressively. Most patients will recover with no lasting effects, however, some may experience long-term muscle stiffness or weakness, or even death.