What is tetanus?

Tetanus can be 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 are the symptoms of tetanus?

The most common tetanus symptoms 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

Note: Tetanus symptoms may look like other medical conditions. Always consult your physicians for a diagnosis if you think you're experiencing tetanus symptoms.

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)

Tetanus prevention

A DTaP shot is a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). 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 about how to avoid and treat tetanus.

Tetanus treatment

Your physician will determine your specific tetanus treatment 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 tetanus condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

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

  • Medicines to control spasms
  • Thorough 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 a fast heartbeat