Tetanus in Horses
Tetanus, or lockjaw, is an often fatal disease caused by the anaerobic bacteria (grows in low oxygen conditions), Clostridium tetani. The spores of Cl. tetani are commonly present in the soil and can contaminate puncture wounds, crushing wounds, open lacerations, surgical incisions and the umbilici of foals. Upon gaining entrance to the body, they produce a powerful neurotoxin that blocks neurotransmission, resulting in unopposed muscle contraction and spasm (tetany). Horses often adopt a "saw horse" posture. The incubation period is approximately 8 days (range 3 to 21 days) (1). Spores can also remain dormant in muscles and begin to grow when trauma occurs, making tissue oxygen level low. Horses of all ages can be affected. Horses are the most susceptible of all of the animal species. Tetanus can also affect humans. The disease is not contagious between horses or between horses and humans. The number of horses affected with tetanus annually in Ontario is unknown but would appear to be low (less than 5).
Cl. tetani is present in the feces and intestinal tracts of horses, and humans. Soil contaminated with horse feces commonly contains Cl. tetani spores. Therefore, humans working around horses and horse farms should seek immediate medical attention when injured, especially with penetrating wounds such as those caused by nails. Following a properly administered primary series of tetanus vaccine, virtually all persons develop a protective level of antitoxin (1). Booster vaccines for adult humans are recommended every 10 years (1).
Horses should be vaccinated against tetanus using a tetanus toxoid to induce active immunity. Formalin-inactivated, adjuvanted toxoids are readily available and often combined with other vaccines. They appear to be very safe and induce a long-lasting immunity. The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends (2):
Tetanus antitoxin is produced by hyperimmunization of donor horses and then harvesting the antibodies. It is used to administer to unvaccinated horses to induce short-lived, immediate, passive protection. The passive immunity usually lasts only 2 to 3 weeks.
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