TETANUS

Cosmos - - Gallery - CREDIT: AL­FRED PASIEKA / GETTY IMAGES

If ap­proached by some­one with a pen­e­trat­ing wound, no his­tory of vac­ci­na­tion and a mock­ing grin your best course may be to call 000. That wry smile is ac­tu­ally a clas­sic symp­tom of tetanus, a dis­ease caused by a bac­terium whose spores are ubiq­ui­tous in soil. Clostrid­ium tetani re­leases a toxin that blocks the in­hibitory neu­ro­trans­mit­ter GABA, send­ing mus­cles into spasms of such vi­o­lence they can break bones, shut down breath­ing mus­cles and, yes, con­tort the face into that in­vol­un­tary smirk. Which all serves to make the ex­ceed­ingly safe and ef­fec­tive op­tion of vac­ci­na­tion even more ap­peal­ing.

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