Tetanus and Rabies

management May 20, 2021
animal bites need to be screened for rabies and tetanus

One of the most fun parts of doing this lecture series has been learning more about the material. I have asked patients about tetanus status several thousand times over the years. I’ve looked up rabies info several dozen times at least.

Now that we are in the midst of a viral pandemic that seems to be lightening, in large part due to vaccines, it’s a good reminder that we just don’t see tetanus and rabies anymore. The reason is vaccines. Science is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? 

Spores from the Clostridium tetanii bacteria gets into the body through a break in the skin or medical procedure. These spores develop into bacteria and produce a toxin called tetanospasmin. This toxin inhibits GABA release from neurotransmitters, leading to unopposed excitation-tetany-muscle spasm!! Due to widespread and aggressive education and vaccination programs, I will likely never see a case of active tetanus in my life in the emergency department. There are only 30 cases a year in the US. I’m ok with that!! It’s a hideous disease.

Rabies is a viral disease caused by Rabies lyssavirus. Lyssa is Greek for “spirit of mad rage”. It is spread by the saliva of an infected animal. This is another illness that has been all but eradicated in the US due to aggressive animal vaccination and public health education programs. Tens of thousands of people die worldwide every year from rabies, mostly due to dog bites. In the US, 2-3 people a year die from this hideous disease that is 100% fatal once symptoms develop. If you are bitten by an animal that could potentially harbor rabies or are in a room with a bat, get checked out and discuss rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

You can learn more about both tetanus and rabies by following these links here:

CDC Rabies

CDC Tetanus

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