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Tetanus - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Published on Jun 17, 2022   -  4 min read


Tetanus is an infection that causes muscle spasms and lockjaw, also known as trismus. Clostridium tetani toxins are responsible for the distinctive presentation of the disease.


Overview of Tetanus:

What Is Tetanus?

Tetanus is a potentially fatal central nervous system disease. It is caused by a toxin produced by the tetanus bacterium. Typically, the bacterium enters the body through an open wound. Tetanus bacteria can be found in soil and manure. They can also be found in the human intestine and elsewhere. Tetanus is more common in hotter climates or during the summer months. Tetanus differs from other vaccine-preventable diseases in that it is not transmitted from person to person. Bacteria are typically found in soil, dust, and manure and enter the body through skin breaks like cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects. Tetanus is extremely rare in the United States due to widespread immunization.

What Are the Causes of Tetanus?

Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Tetanus bacteria spores can be found in a variety of environments, including soil, dust, and manure. When the spores enter the body, they transform into bacteria. Tetanus infects the body in a variety of ways. The spores can enter the body through broken skin, which is usually caused by injuries from contaminated objects. Tetanus bacteria are more likely to infect specific skin breaks. These are some causes:

The incubation period, or the time between exposure and illness, is usually between 3 and 21 days. However, depending on the type of wound, it can range from one day to several months. The majority of cases present within 14 days. Doctors generally see shorter incubation periods with wounds that are more heavily contaminated in people with a more serious illness and those cases with poor prognosis.

What Are the Symptoms of Tetanus?

Tetanus can cause serious health problems, such as being unable to open one's mouth and having difficulty swallowing and breathing. Tetanus symptoms include:

What Are the Complications of Tetanus?

Tetanus can cause a variety of serious health problems, including:

How Is Tetanus Treated?

The tetanus treatment will be determined by healthcare providers based on the following factors:

Tetanus treatment (or reducing the risk of tetanus after an injury) may include the use of:

How to Prevent Tetanus?

To help prevent tetanus infection, vaccination and proper wound care are essential. Doctors can also use medicine to help prevent tetanus in cases where someone has been seriously injured and has not received tetanus vaccine protection. Having the tetanus vaccine up to date is the most effective way to prevent tetanus. Vaccine protection, like prior infection protection, does not last a lifetime. This means that even if a person has previously had tetanus or received the vaccine, they must continue to receive it on a regular basis to maintain a high level of protection against this serious disease. Tetanus vaccines are recommended for people of all ages, with booster shots throughout life, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Immediate and proper wound care can also aid in the prevention of infection. Even minor, non-infected wounds such as blisters, scrapes, or any break in the skin should not be delayed in receiving first aid. Hands should be washed frequently with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub should be used if washing is not possible.


The prognosis after tetanus is determined by the time between the first symptom and the first spasm. In general, with such a short time to symptom onset, the prognosis is bleak. Tetanus recovery is slow, and it can take months. The prognosis for both neonatal and cephalic tetanus is poor. Some patients experience hypotonia and autonomic dysfunction for months or years. Because the infection does not confer immunity even those who survive, require tetanus toxoid. Patients usually survive this illness, though recovery is slow, and some may remain hypotonic.


Frequently Asked Questions


Can a Person Survive Tetanus?

Tetanus is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 10 % to 20 % of tetanus infections are fatal.


How Does a Person Get Tetanus?

The spores of tetanus bacteria gain access to the body through cuts in the skin, generally due to injuries from contaminated objects.


What Are the Chances of Having tetanus?

Tetanus is a rare disease now. However, unvaccinated farmers, gardeners, firefighters, and construction workers can easily get it.


What Are the Manifestations of Tetanus?

Tetanus mainly manifests itself as follows:

- Painful muscle spasms and stiff, immovable muscles of the jaw (lockjaw).

- The tension of lips muscles.

- Painful spasms and rigidity of the neck muscles.

- Difficulty in swallowing.

The rigidity of abdominal muscles.

- On the progression of the disease, other signs and symptoms may appear, like:

- Hypertension.

- Hypotension.

- Increased heart rate.

- Fever.

- Extreme perspiration.


For How long Do the Manifestations of Tetanus Remain Dormant?

The incubation period for tetanus is between 3 to 21 days. However, it varies according to the type of wound and may occur in one day to several months. Usually, the symptoms occur within 14 days.


Does Tetanus Go Away On Its Own?

No, tetanus does not go away without treatment as there is no cure for it, and it can turn fatal.


What Are the Consequences of Not Getting a Tetanus Shot on Exposure to a Rusty Metal?

If vaccination and treatment for tetanus are not taken on time, then it may turn fatal by affecting the respiratory muscles and hampering breathing.


Does It Get Too Late to Get a Tetanus Shot After an Injury?

If a person has not received the three doses of tetanus vaccination followed by a booster dose in the last ten years, then he is at a higher risk of getting tetanus. Tetanus vaccination can be taken in the next 24 hours after having an injury.


Is a Tetanus Shot Needed for a Small Scratch?

A tetanus shot is needed for a small scratch if it causes a break in the skin and the tetanus immunization is not up to date.


Do All Rusted Metals Contain Tetanus Toxin?

It is not rust that causes tetanus. Instead, it is the cut or a break in the skin that gives entry to the bacteria into the body and causes tetanus.


What Does a Lockjaw Feel Like?

A lockjaw feels like a muscular stiffness and pain in the jaw and leads to difficulty in jaw movements.


How Early After a Cut Should a Person Get a Tetanus Shot?

A tetanus shot should be taken as soon as possible after a cut. However, it should be administered even to those who approach late for medical attention.

Last reviewed at:
17 Jun 2022  -  4 min read




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