Tetanus is a bacterial infection. The infection affects the nervous system. It can lead to severe muscle spasms. Such spasms lead to lockjaw. This spasm makes it impossible to open or close the mouth. Tetanus can be fatal.
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Tetanus bacteria is found in soil, dust, or manure. It enters your body through a break in the skin.
Once in your body, the bacteria creates a toxin. This toxin causes tetanus.
Factors that increase your risk of tetanus include:
Symptoms of tetanus may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is mainly based on the medical history.
Your doctor may test the wound. A culture will grow the bacteria causing the infection. Culture results are not always accurate for tetanus.
Treatment may include:
Tetanus can cause severe problems with breathing or swallowing. A breathing tube may be inserted in the throat. This will help keep the airway open until you heal. A surgical procedure called a tracheotomy may be done. This will provide an open airway if your upper airway can not be accessed.
The best means of prevention is immunization. Immunization schedule for tetanus is as follows:
If you or your child has not been fully vaccinated, talk to the doctor. There are catch-up schedules available.
In addition to the vaccine, you can prevent tetanus by taking proper care of wounds:
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Canadian Family Physician
Caring for Kids
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine . 15th ed. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing; 2001.
Pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria. National Coalition for Adult Immunization website. Available at: http://www.nfid.org/idinfo/pertussis . Accessed November 12, 2012.
Recommended adult immunization schedule—United States, 2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep . 2012;6(4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/downloads/adult/mmwr-adult-schedule.pdf . Accessed November 12, 2012.
Recommended immunization schedule for persons aged 7 through 18 years—United States 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/downloads/child/7-18yrs-schedule-pr.pdf . Accessed November 12, 2012.
Tetanus (lockjaw) vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/tetanus/default.htm . Updated January 19, 2012. Accessed November 12, 2012.
1/31/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years—United States, 2008. MMWR. 2008;57;Q1-Q4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5701a8.htm . Updated January 10, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2008.
1/24/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (tdap) vaccine from the advisory committee on immunization practices, 2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(1):13-15.
11/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) in pregnant women and persons who have or anticipate having close contact with an infant aged <12 months—Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60:1424-1426.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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