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What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a fatal disease of the central nervous system caused by a poison made by the tetanus bacterium that enters the body through an open wound.  Tetanus bacteria live in soil and manure; they can also be found in the human intestine and other places.  

​​​What causes tetanus?

Tetanus is caused by the toxin of the bacterium clostridium tetani; it is not spread from person to person.  Tetanus occurs in people who have had a skin or deep tissue wound or puncture. 

​​What are the symptoms of tetanus?

The most common symptoms of tetanus are:

  •   Stiff jaw also called lockjaw
  •  Stiff abdominal and back muscles
  •  Contraction of the facial muscles
  •  Fast pulse
  •  Fever
  •  Sweating
  •  Painful muscle spasms especially near the wound area; if these affect the throat or chest wall, breathing may be stopped
  •  Trouble swallowing

*The symptoms of tetanus may look like other medical conditions.  Always consult your physicians for a diagnosis. 

​​How is tetanus diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on a complete history and physical exam.

​​How is tetanus treated?

Your physician will determine your specific treatment for tetanus based on:

  •   How old you are
  •  Your overall health and medical history
  •  How sick you are
  •  How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  •  How long the condition is expected to last
  •  Your opinion or preference

Treatment for tetanus , or to reduce the risk after an injury may include:

  •   Medicines to control spasms
  •  Through cleaning of the wound
  •  A course of tetanus antitoxin injections
  •  Use of a ventilator , or breathing machine, if you have trouble breathing on your own
  •  Antibiotics
  •  Other medicines to control pain and other symptoms such as fast heartbeat

​​​What are the complications of tetanus?

  •   Vocal cord spasms
  •  Broken bones due to severe muscle spasms
  •  Breathing problems
  •  Pneumonia
  •  High blood pressure or abnormal heart rhythms
  •  Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung)

​​Can tetanus be prevented?

A DTaP shot is a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.  Adults should get a Td booster every 10 years, but it can be given before the 10-year​ mark.  Always ask your physician for advice.