Tasty Morsels of EM 113 – #FRCEM Tetanus

5 Aug

I’m entering a few months prep for the UK and Ireland exit exam in Emergency Medicine: the FRCEM. I’ll be adding lots of little notes on pearls I’ve learned along the way. A lot of my revision is based around the Handbook of EM as a curriculum guide and review of contemporary, mainly UK guidelines. I also focus on the areas that I’m a bit sketchy on. With that in mind I hope they’re useful.

You can find more things on the FRCEM on this site here.

(Featured image via CDC in the public domain)

This is so ubiquitous in our practice I suspect we don’t really understand it that well (I don’t!)

The Green Book and PHE have some good advice. Public Health England seems more up to date

What is tetanus?

  • neonates in developing world are massively at risk
  • 30 or so cases a year in UK (of note in the green book there hasn’t been a reported death recently)
  • in the UK think
    • IDU (as well as botulism and anthrax…)
    • the elderly
  • a notifiable disease – one of the statutory reasons we can break confidentiality remember
  • clostrium tetani is the organism
    • gram +ve
    • lives in spores
    • these germinate in anerobic conditions
  • tetanospasmin is the exotoxin that causes all the issues by blocking inhibitory neurones in CNS
  • incubation 4-14 days (but can be prolonged)
  • 20% without wound apparently

How does it present?

  • masseter spasm – trismus, “lock jaw”
  • spreads to involve all facial and neck muscles
  • forced extension of the back (the opisthotonus seen here)
  • autonomic dysfunction and instability (similar to GBS I imagine)
  • some of this could look like dystonia but dystonia from meds gets better with procyclidine and tetanus doesn’t

How do you manage it?

  • benzos for the spasms
  • tube when they need it
  • specific treatment
    • penicillin
    • metronidazole
    • immunoglobulin (5000–10,000IU by IV infusion, though see notes from Public Health England below)

Tell me about vaccination?

(The Green Book)

  • only began nationally in the UK in 1961 so if your patient was born before that then they likely never had a complete course and the booster we give them might be the first tetanus they’ve ever had.
  • the tetanus vaccines we give are all combined with some other tracking nanobots vaccines. Pertussis might be the most useful of these I expect given its prevalence and the waning vaccine effect
  • these vaccines do not contain a live organism and cannot cause the disease
  • “In most circumstances, a total of five doses of vaccine at the appropriate
    intervals are considered to give satisfactory long-term protection. “
  • they also note that immunosuppression in people who have had the full course may invalidate it
  • “individuals born before 1961 who may not have been immunised in infancy, a full course of immunisation is likely to be required. “
  • so for adults born before 1961 who need a full course the PHE recs are
    • 0 months
    • 1 month
    • 2 months
    • 10 years following the initial course for 1st booster
    • 10 years following the 1st booster for the 2nd booster

What is a tetanus prone wound?

  • wounds or burns needing surgery where this is delayed more than 6 hrs
  • devitalised tissue or punctures especially with soil or manure
  • wounds with FBs
  • open fractures
  • wounds or burns in patients with sepsis

When should we give immunoglobulin?

  • the green book says this

If the wound, burn or injury fulfils the above criteria and is considered to be high risk, human tetanus immunoglobulin should be given for immediate protection, irrespective of the tetanus immunisation history of the patient. This is a precautionary recommendation since there is insufficient current evidence to support other alternatives. High risk is regarded as heavy contamination with material likely to contain tetanus spores and/or extensive devitalised tissue.

  • so there is an undoubted subjective element here with it being tetanus prone and “high risk”
  • the vaccine is given in this scenario as well – not because it provides protection for this potential episode but for the future one
  • dosing for tetanus prone wounds
    • 250IU IM (not around the wound, that’s rabies) for most
    • 500IU IM for those >24 hrs old
    • interestingly PHE says if this can’t be sourced you can use normal human immunoglobulin (subgam)
    • (I suppose this is similar in a way that people use FFP to get the C1 esterase in hereditary angioedema)
  • also we give this if someone actually has tetanus


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