Clostridium tetani can grow in an environment devoid of oxygen and has the ability to form spores which can survive for years. The natural habitat of the organism is soil and dust. The spores are resistant to a number of disinfecting agents and even to autoclaving. As mentioned above, the organism produces a toxin which acts on the nervous system resulting in the clinical manifestations of tetanus.
Factors associated with the tetanus infection
The occurrence of tetanus depends upon man’s physical and ecological surroundings – the soil, agriculture, animal husbandry and not on the presence or absence of infection in the population. Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person. Tetanus affects two age groups. Occurrence in the neonatal period is called neonatal tetanus. The other age group affected are young children and adults.
Environmental factors for Tetanus
The soil is a good ground for harboring the spores of tetanus. Thus, agricultural workers are at special risk because of their contact with soil. As such, tetanus is more commonly seen in rural than urban areas. The environment factors are compounded by social factors such as unhygienic customs and habits (e.g. application of dust or animal dung to wounds). Unhygienic delivery practices (e.g. using unsterilized instruments for cutting the umbilical cord), ignorance of infection and lack of primary health care services.