Spores of the bacteria are found in soil, animal excrement, house dust and in the human intestine. If spores enter the skin through a contaminated puncture wound, such as the wound from a dog bite, the spores germinate and produce a toxin that enters the bloodstream. This is nothing to fool around with. The tetanus toxin affects the interaction between the nerves that control muscles. The spasms often begin in the jaw or facial muscles and may spread to the head, arms, legs, and back, eventually blocking the ability to breathe. Sometimes the spasms are so strong, bone fractures occur.
Animal bites and scratches, even when they are minor, can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and bites can carry disease. Cat scratches, even from a kitten, can carry "cat scratch disease," a bacterial infection. Other animals can transmit rabies and tetanus. Bites that break the skin are even more likely to become infected.
See patient information handout on the prevention and treatment of dog bites , written by the author of this article. Almost one half of all dog bites involve an animal owned by the victim's family or neighbors. A large percentage of dog bite victims are children. Although some breeds of dogs have been identified as being more aggressive than other breeds, any dog may attack when threatened. All dog bites carry a risk of infection, but immediate copious irrigation can significantly decrease that risk.
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