Tetanus: pathophysiology, clinical signs, diagnosis, and update on new treatment modalities


Address correspondence and reprint requests to:
Dr. Maureen McMichael, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, Mail Stop 4474, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4474.
E-mail: mmcmichael@cvm.tamu.edu


Objective: To review the pathophysiology, clinical signs, diagnosis, and current treatment modalities used in treating tetanus in small animals and humans.

Etiology: Tetanus is caused by the activity of a toxin released from the bacterial organism, Clostridium tetani. The disease has an incubation period of 3 days to 3 weeks and usually follows a deep penetrating wound.

Diagnosis: The diagnosis of tetanus is usually based on history and clinical signs.

Therapy: Therapy of tetanus consists of direct and supportive care and includes toxin neutralization via human or equine derived immunoglobulin, antimicrobial therapy to eliminate C. tetani, and central and peripheral muscle relaxants to control hypertonicity. Adjunctive care may include positive pressure ventilation, anticonvulsant medication, drugs to treat autonomic dysfunction, and nutritional support.

Prognosis: Prognosis varies based on severity of clinical signs at the time of diagnosis and the availability of appropriate care.