- Tetanus is a serious illness caused by a bacterial toxin that affects your nervous system and causes painful muscle contractions, especially the muscles of the jaw and neck. Tetanus can affect your ability to breathe and be life-threatening. Tetanus is commonly referred to as “tetanus”.
- Thanks to the tetanus vaccine, tetanus cases are rare in the US and other parts of developed countries. However, the disease remains a threat to those who are not up to date on their vaccinations. It’s more common in developing countries.
- There is no cure for tetanus. Treatment focuses on managing the complications until the effects of the tetanus toxin wear off.
The signs and symptoms of tetanus appear anytime from a few days to several weeks after the tetanus bacteria invade your body through a wound. The average incubation period is seven to 10 days.
Common signs and symptoms of tetanus include:
- Cramps and stiffness of the jaw muscles (trismus)
- Stiff muscles in the neck
- difficulties swallowing
- Stiffness in your abs
- Painful body cramps that last several minutes and are usually caused by minor events such as drafts, loud noise, physical contact, or light
Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by bacterial spores, Clostridium tetani, found in soil, dust, and animal feces. When the spores enter a deep flesh wound, they turn into bacteria that can produce a powerful toxin, tetanospasmin. The toxin affects the nerves that control your muscles (motor neurons). The toxin can cause muscle stiffness and cramps – the main signs and symptoms of tetanus.
Almost all cases of tetanus occur in people who have never been vaccinated or in adults who have not received a 10-year booster. You can’t get tetanus from someone who has it.
The following things will increase your chances of getting tetanus:
- Don’t get vaccinated or keep up to date with tetanus booster shots
- An injury that leaves tetanus spores in the wound
- A foreign object like a nail or a splinter
- Tetanus cases have developed from the following factors:
- Puncture wounds – including splinters, piercings, tattoos, and injecting drugs
- Gunshot wounds
- Compound fractures
- Surgical wounds
- Injection drug use
- Animal or insect bites
- Infected foot ulcers
- Dental infections
You can easily prevent tetanus by getting the vaccine.
The primary series of vaccines
Tetanus vaccine is usually given to children as part of the diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. This vaccination provides protection against three diseases: infection of the throat and respiratory tract (diphtheria), whooping cough (whooping cough), and tetanus.
The DTaP vaccine consists of a series of five injections that are usually given to the arm or thigh in older children:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15-18 months
- 4 to 6 years.