Clostridium tetani is a gram-positive spore-forming bacterium that produces toxins and grows under anaerobic conditions. Infections with this bacterium can lead to local or generalised forms of tetanus.
An 83-year-old man presented to the acute cardiac care unit with a painful left arm and jaw. Because the patient had a hypertonic left arm and was unable to open his mouth fully, the neurologist was consulted. The patient had been to the emergency department 9 days earlier for an infected wound after falling in the garden. He had not been actively or passively immunised against tetanus at that time. On inquiry, it appeared that the patient had also not been vaccinated as a child. We made a clinical diagnosis of tetanus. The patient was admitted and treated with tetanus immunoglobulin, metronidazole, diazepam and painkillers. He was also administered tetanus toxoid and the wound was cleaned. After 1 month and 7 months, the patient was again administered tetanus toxoid.
Patients with a wound that may have come into contact with road grime, dirt or manure, should always be asked for their vaccination status, especially people from high-risk groups, such as the elderly.
Conflict of interest and financial support: none declared.