Neonatal tetanus: a continuing challenge in the southeast of Turkey: risk factors, clinical features and prognostic factors

Eur J Epidemiol. 1999 Feb;15(2):171-4. doi: 10.1023/a:1007500109522.


Neonatal tetanus (NT) still causes significant mortality in developing countries, although in 1989 WHO adopted the goal of eliminating the disease by 1995-2000. To characterize the regional characteristics, clinical charts of 55 neonates (42 males and 13 females) admitted to the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Ward of Dicle University Hospital, Diyarbakir, Turkey with the diagnosis of NT from 1991 to 1997 were reviewed. Mean age at admittance was 8.9+/-4.3 days with a range of 3-25 days. Mean period for the appearance of first symptoms was 5.8 days ranging between 1 and 21 days. Mean birth weight of the patients was 3369+/-560g. All patients were from rural areas and were delivered at home by untrained traditional birth attendants with no prior antenatal healthcare services. Razor blade (55%), scissors (27%), and knife (18%) were the instruments used to cut the cord in non-hygienic conditions. No mothers had prior vaccination with tetanus toxoid during their pregnancy. Spasticity (76%), lack of sucking (71%), trismus (60%), fever (49%), omphalitis (44%), irritability (24%), risus sardonicus (22%), and opithotonus (15%) were the most common presenting signs and symptoms. Age at admission < 7.5 days and symptoms of onset <4.9 days, risus sardonicus and opisthotonus were associated with fatal outcome. All patients were treated with human tetanus immunglobulin or equine tetanus antitoxin where available, antibiotic therapy by penicillin G (100.000 U/kg/day) and intravenous high dose diazepam (40 mg/kg/day). Overall mortality rate was 40% (22 cases), without any equipment for mechanical ventilation. Health education of mothers and birth attendants, promotion of hospital delivery and prenatal tetanus immunization of all pregnant women particularly in rural areas are recommended, if NT is to be prevented.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data
  • Facial Muscles / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Fever / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Irritable Mood
  • Male
  • Midwifery / statistics & numerical data
  • Muscle Spasticity / epidemiology
  • Muscular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Penicillin G / therapeutic use
  • Penicillins / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Rural Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Spasm / epidemiology
  • Sucking Behavior
  • Tetanus / epidemiology*
  • Tetanus Antitoxin / therapeutic use
  • Tetanus Toxoid
  • Trismus / epidemiology
  • Turkey / epidemiology
  • Umbilical Cord / surgery
  • Umbilicus
  • Vaccination


  • Penicillins
  • Tetanus Antitoxin
  • Tetanus Toxoid
  • Penicillin G