Officials in Brisbane, Australia are reporting a tetanus case in a 7-year-old girl who was unvaccinated, according to a Sky News report.

Clostridium tetani /CDC
Clostridium tetani /CDC

The child was initially treated at Lismore Base Hospital and transferred to Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. She is currently in critical condition.

Pediatrician Dr Chris Ingall said, “She was suffering very painful spasms to her body and jaw muscles.”

The girl likely contracted the bacterium through an open wound on her foot.

Tetanus is caused by a very potent toxin produced by the anaerobic bacterium, Clostridium tetani. The spores of this organism are very resistant to environmental factors and are found widely distributed in soil and in the intestines and feces of horses, sheep, cattle, dogs, cats, rats, guinea pigs, and chickens.

These spores are usually introduced into the body through a puncture wound contaminated with soil, street dust, animal bites or animal or human feces, through lacerations, burns or trivial unnoticed wounds or by injecting contaminated drugs. So many times you hear about concern over stepping on a rusty nail; however the rust has nothing to do with tetanus. At this point the spores germinate into the bacteria which multiply and produce toxin.

Related: Vaccines: An interview with Dr. Paul Offit

Depending on the extent of the wound, the incubation of tetanus is around 10-14 days.

Some of the common symptoms of tetanus are lockjaw, followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty in swallowing, and rigidity of abdominal muscles. Other symptoms include elevated temperature, sweating, elevated blood pressure, and episodic rapid heart rate. Spasms may occur frequently and last for several minutes. Spasms continue for 3–4 weeks. The typical features of a tetanus spasm are the position ofopisthotonos and the facial expressions known as “risus sardonicus”. The death rate for this disease ranges from 10-80% depending on age and quality of care.

There are really no laboratory findings that are characteristic of tetanus. The diagnosis is entirely clinical and does not depend upon bacteriologic confirmation.

This disease in not transmitted from person to person. Even if you had tetanus and recovered, this potent toxin produces no immunity.

Tetanus can be prevented through vaccination.

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