Survival first aid: Handling tetanus in a post-SHTF scenario
01/11/2022 // Mary Villareal // Views

Many people have dutifully gone to get their tetanus shots when stepping on a rusty nail or a dirty piece of wood, but very few know what tetanus actually is and why it is dangerous.

Tetanus is an infection that is caused by a type of bacteria that produces spores, which primarily live in the soil or feces of animals. The spores are capable of living for years and are resistant to extreme temperatures. While relatively rare in the United States, with only about 50 reported cases a year, this number is significantly higher in developing countries with poor immunization programs.

Tetanus infections occur when a person has a break in the skin, which often happens when there is a puncture wound, an insect or animal bite, or a splinter. The type of bacteria present in tetanus does not like oxygen, and the deep, narrow wounds found in the skin puncture give less access to it. While many believe dirty, rusty nails are the main culprit, any compromises to the skin, such as burns, lacerations, and crush injuries can be entryways for the tetanus bacteria.

Once a wound becomes contaminated by spores, they get activated as full-fledged bacteria that reproduce rapidly, and damage can come as a result of a strong toxin that excretes the organism Tetanospasmin, which target nerves that serve the muscle tissues. It binds to motor nerves, causing "misfires" that lead to involuntary contraction of affected areas.

Neural damage may be localized or can affect the whole body, and some classic symptoms include lockjaw, which tightens that jaw muscles. However, any muscle group is susceptible, such as respiratory musculature, which can affect breathing and can potentially be life-threatening. (Related: Debunking the myth: Rusty nails won't give you tetanus.)


The most severe cases of tetanus can occur at extremes in age, with newborns and those over 65 most likely to become severely affected by the disease, with death rates from generalized tetanus hovering around 25 to 50 percent higher in newborns.

Some of the symptoms to look out for include sore muscles, weakness, irritability, difficulty swallowing and lockjaw, as facial muscles are often the first affected by the disease. While initial symptoms may not present themselves for one to two weeks, they may worsen as the disease progresses.

Sometimes, muscle spasms get worse and get generalized over time. There could also be involuntary arching of the back that can become so strong it can cause bones to break or dislocate. Fever, respiratory distress, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats may also be symptoms.

Treating tetanus

While tetanus is an infectious disease, it is not contagious and a survival medic can treat a victim safely by wearing gloves and observing standard clean techniques. The best prevention is to make sure that all wounds are cleaned and treated thoroughly.

Some physicians may prescribe further prophylactic treatment by taking antibiotics such as penicillin, ampicillin, or metronidazole to kill any bacteria that may have entered the body. Prophylactic measures should still be taken with every wound, no matter how "trivial," especially in cases of tetanus, where patients have no idea how they became host to the bacteria.

The problem with contracting tetanus during a survival scenario is that there is no cure for it. Treatment lies in supportive care and the best methods may not be available in a survival situation.

The first is to find the source of the infection, open and clean it. However, if the cause was a minor splinter or a thorn prick, there may not be a wound to clean out. The doctor or emergency personnel may also likely need to administer a million units of penicillin IV or tetracycline.

If intravenous antibiotics are not available, metronidazole or doxycycline may be prescribed to kill the bacteria, which can make fewer toxins: however, there will be nothing to hasten to remove the toxins already bound for the nerves.

Antibiotics, valium, diazepam, or phenobarbital may also be administered to reduce spasms, or the patient may be required intravenous fluids.

The mortality rate for tetanus cases can range dramatically depending on age. Tetanus vaccines are not without risks, but given the life-threatening nature of the disease, this is one you should encourage to receive because there may be little emergency personnel can do to treat it without modern medicine.

Watch the video below to learn more about tetanus vaccine shot:

The above video airs on the Buzzand NZ channel on Brighteon.TV.

Read more about SHTF scenarios and what you can do to survive at

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