Facts about Tetanus
Tetanus, commonly called lockjaw, is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system. It is contracted through a cut or wound that becomes contaminated with tetanus bacteria. The bacteria can get in through deep puncture wounds or cuts like those made by nails or knives, but even a scratch provides an entryway. Tetanus bacteria are present worldwide and are commonly found in soil and most surfaces. The infection causes severe muscle spasms, leading to "locking" of the jaw, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. In severe cases, tetanus infections may lead to death by suffocation. Tetanus is the only vaccine-preventable disease that is not transmitted from person to person.
What are the symptoms?
Common first signs of tetanus are a headache and muscular stiffness in the jaw (lockjaw) followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty swallowing, hardening of abdominal muscles, spasms, sweating, and fever. Symptoms usually begin around eight days after infection, but may range in onset from three days to three weeks.
How can tetanus be prevented?
Vaccination is the best way to protect against tetanus. Due to widespread immunization, tetanus is a rare disease in the US. Most people receive their first dose as children in the form of a combined vaccine called DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis). Health officials now recommend that adults and adolescents receive a Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis) booster vaccine to protect against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). This recommendation is instead of the previously recommended Td (tetanus-diphtheria) booster.
Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by a type of bacteria found worldwide in soil and most surfaces.
Tetanus can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
Almost all reported cases of tetanus occur in persons who have either never been vaccinated, or those who completed a primary series but have not had a booster vaccination in the past 10 years.
People with tetanus may have to spend several weeks in the hospital under intensive care.
Tetanus is not transmitted from one person to another.
Recovery from tetanus illness may not result in lifelong immunity. Another infection could occur unless immunization is provided soon after the person's condition has stabilized.
Learn more about tetanus in adults and the vaccine to prevent it.