Updated: 7/25/2021

Clostridium tetani

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Snapshot
  • A 20-year-old college student presents to the emergency room after stepping on a piece of a rusted nail outside of his dorm. He reports that he has had all the appropriate childhood vaccinations but has had nothing since his last set of boosters at 10 years of age. His vital signs are within normal limits. Aside from erythema surrounding his left sole at the site of trauma, his physical exam is within normal limits. After cleaning the wound site, he is given the appropriate post-exposure prophylaxis.
Introduction
  • Classification
    • Clostridium tetani
      • anaerobic gram + rod
      • produces tetanospasmin toxin
    • transmission
      • direct contact in contaminated soil
  • Epidemiology
    • demographics
      • rare in the US
      • more common in developing countries due to low rates of vaccination
    • risk factors
      • lack of vaccination
      • trauma
      • chronic wounds
      • lack of immunity in mothers
  • Pathogenesis  
    • forms spores that are resistant to heat and chemicals
    • produces tetanospasmin, an exotoxin 
      • a protease that cleaves SNARE proteins (synaptobrevin 2), which blocks the release of inhibitory neurotransmitters (glycine and GABA)
      • causes paralysis
  • Associated conditions
    • tetanus
    • neonatal tetanus
      • neonates who are born to unvaccinated mothers
      • inability to suck or cry after day 2 of life
      • colonization of the umbilical stump
  • Prevention
    • DTap vaccine
      • vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
      • 5 doses before school-age, completed by 4-6 years of age
    • Tdap vaccine
      • booster vaccine at 11-12 years of age
    • Td vaccine
      • tetanus and diphtheria toxoid vaccine at 10-year intervals
  • Prognosis
    • spasms last for ~ 1 month
    • mortality can be high if not treated
Presentation
  • Symptoms
    • spastic paralysis
      • muscle stiffness
      • spasms
    • fever
  • Physical exam 
    • trismus
      • lockjaw
    • risus sardonicus
      • raised eyebrows
      • grin
    • opisthotonos
      • spinal muscle spasms
      • causes backward arching of head and spine
    • rigid abdominal muscles
    • foul-smelling and erythematous umbilical stump in neonates
Studies
  • Serology or culture
    • rarely used due to low sensitivity and specificity
  • Making the diagnosis
    • most cases are clinically diagnosed
Differential
  • Bacterial meningitis
    • distinguishing factor
      • nuchal rigidity without other signs of spastic paralysis
Treatment
  • Management approach
    • treat all with antitoxin and booster if needed
  • Conservative
    • wound debridement
      • indication
        • all patients
  • Medical 
    • tetanus antitoxin 
      • indication
        • patients with contaminated or dirty wounds
    • benzodiazepine
      • indications
        • muscle spasms
    • booster vaccine
      • indication
        • patients with > 10 years from last dose
        • patients with < 3 or uncertain number of tetanus vaccine doses
Complications
  • Respiratory compromise from spasm of respiratory muscles
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Contractures

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Questions (7)
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(M1.MC.15.74) A 6-year-old boy who recently immigrated to the United States is brought to the emergency department by his mother. His mother states that the boy had a deep cut several days ago, which she thoroughly washed and bandaged at home. He has now been having severe muscle spasms. When you examine the boy, you note the findings shown in Figure A. Which of the following best describes the pathological mechanism behind the boy's presentation?

QID: 106699
FIGURES:
1

Inactivation of elongation factor

0%

(0/81)

2

Increase in cyclic AMP

1%

(1/81)

3

Destruction of protein leading to inhibition of neurotransmitter release

94%

(76/81)

4

Destruction of cell membranes

1%

(1/81)

5

Massive release of cytokines

1%

(1/81)

M 1 D

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(M1.MC.15.1) A 71-year-old male is brought to the emergency room by his caretaker and presents with difficulty breathing, muscle rigidity in the face, neck, back and upper extremities, and profuse sweating. The intern notes a large wound on his head near the back of his right ear which his caretaker had bandaged up. The caretaker explains that the wound was the result of a fall while walking in his backyard. The intern performs a quick physical exam and observes increased reflexes. The patient was intubated to assist in his breathing and was given diazepam, metronidazole, and an immunoglobulin after the blood work came back. Which of the following neurotransmitters is affected in this patient?

QID: 106313
1

Glycine

64%

(108/170)

2

Acetylcholine

26%

(45/170)

3

Dopamine

4%

(7/170)

4

Epinephrine

1%

(1/170)

5

Serotonin

2%

(4/170)

M 1 D

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(M1.MC.15.74) A one-week-old boy is brought to the emergency department by his mother, who recently immigrated to the United States and does not have health insurance. He was born at home, and has not received any medical care since birth. The mother states the boy has become irritable and has been feeding poorly. In the last day, she said he seems "stiff" and is having apparent muscle spasms. On your exam, you note the findings in figure A. Which of the following interventions might have prevented this disease?

QID: 106650
FIGURES:
1

Conjugated polysaccharide vaccine given to infant at birth

11%

(31/271)

2

Toxoid vaccine given to mother pre-natally

73%

(198/271)

3

Vitamin injection given to newborn at birth

10%

(26/271)

4

Improved maternal nutrition

3%

(8/271)

5

Genetic counseling

1%

(4/271)

M 3 E

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(M1.MC.14.1) A 9-year-old female child whose family recently emigrated from Afghanistan presents to the county hospital with difficulty swallowing and generalized muscle rigidity. Her parents note that although she is in severe pain she always appears to be smiling. After getting a detailed history from the parents, the residents comes to the conclusion that the child's clinical presentation is due to a lack of immunizations and a deep wound on her knee resulting from a fall six days ago. Which of the following is the mechanism of action of the toxin causing this child's symptoms?

QID: 106314
1

Inhibiting protein synthesis via ADP-ribosylation of elongation factor 2

2%

(2/101)

2

Overactivating adenylate cyclase by ADP-ribosylation of the Gs alpha subunit

2%

(2/101)

3

Overactivating adenylate cyclase by disabling the Gi subunit

2%

(2/101)

4

Preventing release of GABA by cleaving of synaptobrevin 2

84%

(85/101)

5

Preventing release of acetycholine by cleaving SNAP-25

8%

(8/101)

M 1 D

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(M1.MC.13.11) A 1-week-old infant that was birthed at home is rushed to the emergency room by his parents. His parents are recent immigrants who do not speak English. Through a translator, the child's parents say that during play with the infant, the infant's body became rigid and his mouth 'locked up'. The child likely suffered from a(n):

QID: 100432
1

Infection of a foot ulcer

0%

(0/65)

2

Infection of the colon

2%

(1/65)

3

Intrauterine infection

6%

(4/65)

4

Infection of the umbilical stump

89%

(58/65)

5

Dental infection

3%

(2/65)

M 2 E

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(M1.MC.13.22) A 45-year-old Caucasian male presents complaining of inability to open his mouth. Patient history reveals that he recently injured his foot from an exposed floor nail in his house. This patient's symptoms are likely the result of:

QID: 101481
1

Impaired motor neuron release of ACh

6%

(4/67)

2

Impaired motor neuron release of GABA

91%

(61/67)

3

Increased production of gas in his soft tissues

0%

(0/67)

4

Cross-reactivity of bacterial antigens

0%

(0/67)

5

Bacterial infiltration of the central nervous system

3%

(2/67)

M 1 E

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Evidence (9)
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EXPERT COMMENTS (6)
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