Child has painful muscle contractions from tetanus
Immunization Saves Lives
Tetanus

What causes tetanus?Tetanus is caused by a toxin (poison) produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The C. tetani bacteria cannot grow in the presence of oxygen. They produce spores that are very difficult to kill as they are resistant to heat and many chemical agents.
How does tetanus spread?C. tetani spores can be found in the soil and in the intestines and feces of many household and farm animals and humans. The bacteria usually enter the human body through a puncture (in the presence of anaerobic [low oxygen] conditions, the spores will germinate).
Tetanus is not spread from person to person.
How long does it take to show signs of tetanus after being exposed?The incubation period varies from 3–21 days, with an average of eight days. The further the injury site is from the central nervous system, the longer the incubation period. The shorter the incubation period, the higher the risk of death.
What are the symptoms of tetanus?The symptoms of tetanus are caused by the tetanus toxin acting on the central nervous system. In the most common form of tetanus, the first sign is spasm of the jaw muscles, followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty in swallowing, and stiffness of the abdominal muscles. Other signs include fever, sweating, elevated blood pressure, and rapid heart rate. Spasms often occur, which may last for several minutes and continue for 3–4 weeks. Complete recovery, if it occurs, may take months.
How serious is tetanus?Tetanus has a high fatality rate. In recent years, tetanus has been fatal in about 10% of reported cases.
What are possible complications from tetanus?Laryngospasm (spasm of the vocal cords) is a complication that can lead to interference with breathing. Patients can also break their spine or long bones from convulsions. Other possible complications include hypertension, abnormal heart rhythm, and secondary infections, which are common because of prolonged hospital stays. Obviously, the high probability of death is a major complication.
How is tetanus diagnosed?The diagnosis of tetanus is based on the clinical signs and symptoms only. Laboratory diagnosis is not useful as the C. tetani bacteria usually cannot be recovered from the wound of an individual who has tetanus, and conversely, can be isolated from the skin of an individual who does not have tetanus.
What kind of injuries might allow tetanus to enter the body?Tetanus bacilli live in the soil, so the most dangerous kind of injury involves possible contamination with dirt, animal feces, and manure. Although we have traditionally worried about deep puncture wounds, in reality many types of injuries can allow tetanus bacilli to enter the body. In recent years, a higher proportion of cases had minor wounds than had major ones, probably because severe wounds were more likely to be properly managed. People can also get tetanus from splinters, self-piercing, and self-tattooing. Injecting drug users are also at risk for tetanus.
I stepped on a nail in our yard. What should I do?Any wound that may involve contamination with tetanus bacilli should be attended to as soon as possible. Treatment depends on your vaccination status and the nature of the wound. In all cases, the wound should be cleaned. Seek treatment immediately and bring your immunization record with you.
With wounds that involve the possibility of tetanus contamination, a patient with an unknown or incomplete history of tetanus vaccination needs a tetanus- and diphtheria-containing shot (Td or Tdap) and a dose of tetanus immune globulin (TIG) as soon as possible.
A person with a documented series of three tetanus- and diphtheria-containing shots (Td or Tdap) who has received a booster dose within the last ten years should be protected. However, to ensure adequate protection, a booster dose of vaccine may still be given if it has been more than five years since the last dose and the wound is other than clean and minor.
Is there a treatment for tetanus?There is no “cure” for tetanus once a person develops symptoms, just supportive treatment and management of complications. The best “treatment” is prevention through immunization.
How common is tetanus in the United States?Tetanus first became a reportable disease in the late 1940s. At that time, there were 500–600 cases reported per year. After the introduction of the tetanus vaccine in the mid-1940s, reported cases of tetanus dropped steadily.
From 2000 through 2007 an average of 31 cases were reported per year. An all-time low of 20 cases were reported in 2003. Almost all cases of tetanus are in people who have never been vaccinated, or who completed their childhood series, but did not have a booster dose in the preceding 10 years.
What is neonatal tetanus?Neonatal tetanus is a form of tetanus that occurs in newborn infants, most often through the use of an unsterile cutting instrument on the unhealed umbilical stump. These babies usually have no temporary immunity passed on from their mother because their mother usually hasn’t been vaccinated and therefore has no immunity.
Neonatal tetanus is very rare in the United States (only two cases have been reported since 1989), but is common in some developing countries. It caused more than 257,000 deaths worldwide each year in the years 2000 to 2003.
Can you get tetanus more than once?Yes! Tetanus disease does not result in immunity because so little of the potent toxin is required to cause the disease. People recovering from tetanus should begin or complete the vaccination series.Questions and answers about tetanus vaccine
Technical content reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2010

Child has painful muscle contractions from tetanus

Immunization Saves Lives

Tetanus

What causes tetanus?
Tetanus is caused by a toxin (poison) produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The C. tetani bacteria cannot grow in the presence of oxygen. They produce spores that are very difficult to kill as they are resistant to heat and many chemical agents.

How does tetanus spread?
C. tetani spores can be found in the soil and in the intestines and feces of many household and farm animals and humans. The bacteria usually enter the human body through a puncture (in the presence of anaerobic [low oxygen] conditions, the spores will germinate).

Tetanus is not spread from person to person.

How long does it take to show signs of tetanus after being exposed?
The incubation period varies from 3–21 days, with an average of eight days. The further the injury site is from the central nervous system, the longer the incubation period. The shorter the incubation period, the higher the risk of death.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?
The symptoms of tetanus are caused by the tetanus toxin acting on the central nervous system. In the most common form of tetanus, the first sign is spasm of the jaw muscles, followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty in swallowing, and stiffness of the abdominal muscles. Other signs include fever, sweating, elevated blood pressure, and rapid heart rate. Spasms often occur, which may last for several minutes and continue for 3–4 weeks. Complete recovery, if it occurs, may take months.

How serious is tetanus?
Tetanus has a high fatality rate. In recent years, tetanus has been fatal in about 10% of reported cases.

What are possible complications from tetanus?
Laryngospasm (spasm of the vocal cords) is a complication that can lead to interference with breathing. Patients can also break their spine or long bones from convulsions. Other possible complications include hypertension, abnormal heart rhythm, and secondary infections, which are common because of prolonged hospital stays. Obviously, the high probability of death is a major complication.

How is tetanus diagnosed?
The diagnosis of tetanus is based on the clinical signs and symptoms only. Laboratory diagnosis is not useful as the C. tetani bacteria usually cannot be recovered from the wound of an individual who has tetanus, and conversely, can be isolated from the skin of an individual who does not have tetanus.

What kind of injuries might allow tetanus to enter the body?
Tetanus bacilli live in the soil, so the most dangerous kind of injury involves possible contamination with dirt, animal feces, and manure. Although we have traditionally worried about deep puncture wounds, in reality many types of injuries can allow tetanus bacilli to enter the body. In recent years, a higher proportion of cases had minor wounds than had major ones, probably because severe wounds were more likely to be properly managed. People can also get tetanus from splinters, self-piercing, and self-tattooing. Injecting drug users are also at risk for tetanus.

I stepped on a nail in our yard. What should I do?
Any wound that may involve contamination with tetanus bacilli should be attended to as soon as possible. Treatment depends on your vaccination status and the nature of the wound. In all cases, the wound should be cleaned. Seek treatment immediately and bring your immunization record with you.

With wounds that involve the possibility of tetanus contamination, a patient with an unknown or incomplete history of tetanus vaccination needs a tetanus- and diphtheria-containing shot (Td or Tdap) and a dose of tetanus immune globulin (TIG) as soon as possible.

A person with a documented series of three tetanus- and diphtheria-containing shots (Td or Tdap) who has received a booster dose within the last ten years should be protected. However, to ensure adequate protection, a booster dose of vaccine may still be given if it has been more than five years since the last dose and the wound is other than clean and minor.

Is there a treatment for tetanus?
There is no “cure” for tetanus once a person develops symptoms, just supportive treatment and management of complications. The best “treatment” is prevention through immunization.

How common is tetanus in the United States?
Tetanus first became a reportable disease in the late 1940s. At that time, there were 500–600 cases reported per year. After the introduction of the tetanus vaccine in the mid-1940s, reported cases of tetanus dropped steadily.

From 2000 through 2007 an average of 31 cases were reported per year. An all-time low of 20 cases were reported in 2003. Almost all cases of tetanus are in people who have never been vaccinated, or who completed their childhood series, but did not have a booster dose in the preceding 10 years.

What is neonatal tetanus?
Neonatal tetanus is a form of tetanus that occurs in newborn infants, most often through the use of an unsterile cutting instrument on the unhealed umbilical stump. These babies usually have no temporary immunity passed on from their mother because their mother usually hasn’t been vaccinated and therefore has no immunity.

Neonatal tetanus is very rare in the United States (only two cases have been reported since 1989), but is common in some developing countries. It caused more than 257,000 deaths worldwide each year in the years 2000 to 2003.

Can you get tetanus more than once?
Yes! Tetanus disease does not result in immunity because so little of the potent toxin is required to cause the disease. People recovering from tetanus should begin or complete the vaccination series.


Questions and answers about tetanus vaccine

Technical content reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2010

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