Although we typically associated tetanus with stepping on rusty nails and getting infections from various dirty wounds, newborns are actually more at risk for tetanus than anyone. In fact, an estimated 257,000 babies worldwide died from this condition from 2000-2003.
Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that is from the same genus as the bacterium that causes botulism. Clostridium tetani is a very hardy bacterium that can survive in soil for many years, as well as withstand severe temperature fluctuations. Thus, if a newborn gets a bit of infected soil into a fresh wound, such as the opening from the umbilical cord, it can cause serious harm and typically results in death.
The danger with the tetanus bacteria is that it produces a strong neurotoxin, called tetanospasmin. This toxin interferes with the motor neurons' ability to control the muscles. Thus, your muscles may spasm and contract without your ability to control them. Because this often affects the delicate facial muscles before the larger muscle groups, tetanus has often been called lockjaw.
Normally, adults notice signs of tetanus with irritability, weakness, soreness, and muscle spasms, as well as a difficulty with swallowing. However, these signs are very difficult to detect in babies, as we may not be aware that they are feeling especially weak. You may notice signs of irritability as well as reduced ability to suck or swallow, though.
Because neonatal tetanus is a general infection that can spread through the baby's body, you may be aware of strong muscle contractions that can be powerful enough to break bones. Also, if the muscles controlling respiratory functions are forced into contracts, you may notice that your baby is having difficulty with breathing. This is a great danger for babies as tetanus can basically smother them.
Once a doctor diagnoses your baby with tetanus, he or she will probably be started on antibiotics and antitoxins to kill the Clostridium tetani bacteria and reverse the negative effects of the neurotoxin. Additionally, the wound source of the bacteria will have to be cleaned out to remove any last pockets of infection. Your obstetrician may also give your baby painkillers and sedatives to keep him or her calm and spasm-free while the antibiotics kick in.
If doctors use unclean tools to cut your baby's umbilical cord, or if they do not properly care for this open wound, it can turn into a serious neonatal tetanus infection. If your baby has suffered from this or another type of birth infection due to a negligent doctor or nursing staff, you should consult a birth injury attorney about your rights. For more information, contact a birth injury lawyer from Lowenthal & Abrams, PC, today.