All soiled wounds are at risk of being contaminated with tetanus bacillus. It is an anaerobic rod, liberating an exotoxin, which has an affinity to motor nerves. The average incubation period is 10 to 14 days. The symptoms begin with stiffness of the body. Temperature becomes high. Death can result from exhaustion and asphyxia.
Prevention is the best treatment since antitoxins have little effect once the spasms have set in. In case of a soiled wound, 5000 units of tetanus antitoxin are given routinely, and repeated weekly for four weeks. To confer active immunity, soldiers and children receive routinely three injections of one cc of tetanus toxoid at intervals of three weeks. A booster dose of 1000 units is administered yearly to maintain immunity.