Tetanus (also called "lockjaw") is a serious, sometimes fatal, illness of the nervous system. It is caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani (C. tetani), which is found in soil, dust and manure.
Tetanus infection is often associated with deep puncture wounds and cuts, such as those caused by nails or knives.
Burns, scratches and even small pinpricks can serve as entryways for infection. It is not spread from person to person.
After exposure, it usually takes about seven days to become ill, but symptoms may begin in as early as three days or as late as three weeks.
- muscular spasms of the face
- locking of the jaw
- throat and neck muscles may become rigid
- swallowing and breathing difficulties with a danger of suffocation.
- stiffness in the shoulders, back and arms
- stiffness in the abdomen and legs
PreventionSafe and effective vaccines exist to prevent tetanus. A booster dose is required every 10 years.
Treating minor wounds
- Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Leave the wound uncovered if possible.
- Get a Td or Tdap booster shot if it has been longer than 10 years since your last one.
- If any signs of infection (redness or warmth of the wound, swelling, tenderness or fever) or tetanus develop, consult your health care provider immediately.
For severe injuries
- See a health care provider immediately for evaluation and treatment (stitches, antibiotics and booster shot).
- Treatment for tetanus infection requires hospitalization, usually under intensive care. Large doses of antibiotics are given as well as antitoxins (medicines that neutralize toxins).
- Sedatives may be required to control spasms, and maintenance of an airway or mechanical ventilation may be necessary for breathing.