Tetanus and Diphtheria | Explained

Posted on July 20, 2021

People often forget all the terrible diseases that humanity has learned to treat or prevent. Tetanus and diphtheria both cause incredible suffering, but in the modern-day, they can be avoided if you know a little bit about them. In fact, today, only about 5 people in Canada suffer from tetanus each year!

This is an amazing success, and a big part of this success comes from the tetanus vaccination that helps protect against it.

You can protect yourself and your loved ones from these diseases by learning how they spread and learning how to recognize them. Read on to learn everything you need to know about tetanus and diphtheria!

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is commonly called lockjaw. This is because one of its symptoms is an intense tightening of the jaw muscles. In fact, tetanus can tighten your jaw muscles so much that you are unable to open them.

Of course, this also leads to problems with breathing and eating and can be painful or uncomfortable all by itself. Additionally, tetanus can cause a fever, muscle stiffness throughout the body, and headaches.

What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is caused by a bacteria called corynebacterium diphtheriae. When this bacteria is inside your body, it slowly synthesizes more and more poison. 

Like tetanus, the poison created by diphtheria can lead to a mild fever. It can also cause a sore throat, general bodily weakness, and swelling in the neck. 

Over time, it can coat the inside of the throat or nose with a thick coating of dead body tissue. This tissue can make it very difficult to breathe and eat.

If you recognize tetanus and diphtheria symptoms in yourself or someone you know, then you should seek medical treatment right away!

Both tetanus and Diptheria are most commonly found today in South Asia and Africa.

What Causes Tetanus and Diphtheria? 

Unlike many other diseases, tetanus does not spread from person to person. In other words, if you know someone with tetanus, you can't catch it from them, no matter how much contact you have with them.

Instead, tetanus infects people who encounter it in soil, rust, or manure. One of the most common ways to get tetanus is through a scratch on a rusty metal object. Of course, with the tetanus vaccine, you are very unlikely to get tetanus even if you get a scratch like this! 

Tetanus and diphtheria risks are different because diphtheria can spread between people. Just as with COVID-19, diphtheria spreads through respiratory droplets from infected people. Infected people can spread these droplets through breathing, coughing, and sneezing. 

While diphtheria is curable, tightness is not. You can eliminate the symptoms of tetanus, but the underlying cause will remain in the body.

Complications with Diptheria and Tetanus

If tetanus is not treated, then it can quickly develop into more serious symptoms. These include laryngospasm. 

Laryngospasm is the name of an uncontrollable tightening of the vocal cords. This can lead to grunting and eventually permanent damage to the vocal cords. 

In the end, someone with laryngospasm can end up with a permanently altered voice. In some cases, that alteration might be as simple as a different sound to your voice. 

But in other cases, it can inhibit your ability to speak normally. You might end up unable to shout, or only able to whisper.

Untreated tetanus can also lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is a lung infection that fills your lungs with fluid. That fluid makes it so that the air inside your lungs has difficulty entering your bloodstream.

Pneumonia can take weeks to recover from, and you will suffer from incredible weakness in the meantime as your body fights to get enough oxygen.

Untreated tetanus can also cause more acute breathing difficulty. In some cases, that breathing difficulty can be so bad that the infected person dies.

Diphtheria can cause some of the same complications as tetanus. However, it causes these complications in a different way.

While tetanus can cause the throat to seize up enough to inhibit airflow, diphtheria can cause your throat to be coated with so much dead tissue that there is simply not enough hollow space for the air to move through.

If diphtheria develops to this extent, it can be difficult to treat. Even if someone is taken to the hospital, they might still die of respiratory diphtheria about 10% of the time. On the other hand, without treatment at a hospital, up to half of all patients can die from respiratory diphtheria.

Diphtheria can also damage many other organs of the body. These include the heart, the nerves, and the kidneys.

In the case of nerve damage, it is unlikely that a patient will die. At the same time, they might suffer from paralysis, losing the functionality of parts of their body. They might also suffer from nearly untreatable nerve pain.

On the other hand, damage to the heart and kidneys can lead to death.

Are Tetanus and Diptheria Treatable?

Tetanus infections are usually treated with an immediate application of medicine called human tetanus immune globulin. This medicine will help counteract the effects of tetanus as it spreads through the body.

At the same time, tetanus treatment involves getting as much foreign material out of a wound as possible. If you can thoroughly clean the site of a wound where tetanus enters the body, then you can take away the source of the problem. 

Antibiotics can also help fight the infection, and drugs can be used to lessen muscle spasms that can lead to broken bones and other damage to the body. 

Scientists have developed a powerful antitoxin that targets diphtheria. Along with antibiotics, most diphtheria can be killed with simple injections.

On the other hand, while treatment is simple, it is not foolproof. As we have discussed before, about 10% of treated patients with respiratory diphtheria will still die.

Where Do I Get the Vaccine?

The tetanus and diphtheria vaccine is given to children as part of the diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine or simply DTaP. You can get this vaccine from your doctor. Depending on where you are, it might be free, or it might cost a small fee.

How Much Does It Cost?

The diphtheria vaccine can either be free or costs between $20 and $30. The tetanus vaccine may also be free, or cost between $25 and $45.

Protect Your Health

We hope that you were able to learn something helpful about tetanus and diphtheria and how you can avoid them. Fortunately, these diseases are becoming less and less common as people learn more about them.

If you have questions about banking, insurance, mortgages, and more, you can get in touch with us here at Insurdinary! 

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