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Dis Mon. 1991 Sep;37(9):545-603.

Tetanus: pathophysiology, management, and prophylaxis.

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Intensive Care Unit, University of Virginia School of Medicine.


As tetanus has become a rare disease in the developed world, physicians have become less comfortable with its diagnosis and management. The extent of adequate antitetanus immunity in the adult population, especially the elderly, is waning, in great measure because primary care physicians have not made prophylaxis a priority in their routine encounters with patients. Furthermore, as the population of immunocompromised hosts grows, an increasing percentage of our patients may not respond to standard active immunization routines. Unless these trends are reversed, we face a substantial increase in the incidence of this dread disorder. Tetanus is also of interest as a relatively simple model of disordered motor control that can instruct us in the management of the many more common causes of neurogenic muscular rigidity. The toxin produced by Clostridium tetani finds increasing use in laboratories investigating brain function as well. Clinical tetanus is divided into four symptomatic types: generalized tetanus, local tetanus, cephalic tetanus, and neonatal tetanus. This monograph discusses the diagnostic aspects of each type of tetanus, its pathophysiology, diagnosis, differential diagnosis, and treatment. Preventing tetanus should be a high priority for all primary care physicians. Active immunization with tetanus toxoid is remarkably effective and safe. Passive immunization with human tetanus immune globulin is indicated in certain circumstances, which are discussed below.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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