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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 cause by the toxin of the bacterium clostridium te​tani; 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.  ​