Many people believe tetanus (lockjaw) is caused by stepping on a rusty nail. When I was a kid, every time someone in my family stepped on a rusty nail, Mom and Dad checked to see that their tetanus shots were up to date. We had a neighbor boy that came down with lockjaw (tetanus) and it was no laughing matter. He had to drink and eat from a straw for weeks. I was too young to know what other treatments he had to endure, but that was enough for me. Is tetanus (lockjaw) really caused by stepping on a rusty nail? Let’s check the facts and see.
What is responsible for causing tetanus (lockjaw)? Tetanus is caused by a bacteria known as clostridia. This nasty little bugger invades your system, producing toxins that cause spasms and immobile stiffened muscles, particularly in the face. Often the jaw will not open. Thus the name, lockjaw. It’s a serious condition that can even cause death. Where does this bacteria come from? Is lockjaw caused by stepping on a rusty nail?
The Source and How It Survives
Clostridia bacteria lies dormant in dirt, feces and dust. It can even be lurking on your skin. Once the bacteria enters your system it comes off of vacation and goes to work producing toxins. This occurs because clostridia can only produce toxins in an environment devoid of oxygen. So, is the catalyst for tetanus a rusty nail?
In order for a person to come down with lockjaw (tetanus), they must first encounter clostridia. Not only that, the clostridia must enter their body through a deep puncture wound. Why is this so? Well, you remember that clostridia can only orchestrate tetanus in an area void of oxygen. But does the deep puncture would and subsequent tetanus have to be caused by a rusty nail?
Could it Be?
It is possible that stepping on a rusty nail could cause tetanus. However, the nail doesn’t have to be rusty. It could be any nail or sharp object that causes a deep puncture wound. It must also be an object that is harboring clostridia. So, it doesn’t have to be a rusty nail, or any nail, that causes tetanus. It could be, but the odds are against it. After all, when was the last time you stepped on a rusty nail at all, let alone one infected with clostridia?