Ultimate Tetanus Guide From Causes To Prevention

Tetanus is an infection that occurs because of a bacteria known as Clostridium tetani. When these bacteria enter the body, they release a poison (toxin), causing painful muscle contractions.

So far no cure has been discovered, just tetanus prevention measures.  It is also known by the term ‘lockjaw’  because the infection results in a person’s neck and jaw muscles locking, making it difficult to open the mouth or swallow.

The infection has no cure, but still, it is rare in the United States and other developing parts of the world, thanks to the tetanus vaccine.

But the disease still remains a threat to those who are not updated on the tetanus vaccine.

Tetanus can affect people of all age groups, but the infection is common among newborn babies and their mothers, especially during pregnancy if she is not vaccinated with the tetanus vaccine.  

Tetanus infection that develops during pregnancy or within 6 weeks at the end of the pregnancy period is known as “maternal tetanus,” whereas tetanus occurring within the first 28 days of life is called “neonatal tetanus.”

Even though we have vaccines, the infection still remains an important public health concern around the world, especially in low-income countries or districts with low immunization coverage and uncleaned birth practices.

In the year 2017, 30,848 newborn babies died from neonatal tetanus, 85% reduction from the year 2000, says the World Health Organization.

What Are The Warning Signs Of Tetanus?

The warning signs and symptoms of tetanus infection start to occur anytime from 3-21 days after the bacteria enters the body through the wound. Most of the infections developed within 14 days after getting the wound.

It was noticed, that almost all tetanus infected patients were not vaccinated with the tetanus vaccine or were not kept up to date on their booster shots. 

Below are the signs and symptoms of tetanus infection:-

  • Jaw cramping(unable to open the jaw)
  • Muscle spasms are usually in the back, abdomen, and extremities
  • Uncertain, painful muscle spasms often triggered by sudden noises
  • Difficulty while swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Fever and sweating
  • Change in blood pressure(faster heart rate) 

Neonatal tetanus causes symptoms, such as muscle spasms, which are often preceded by the newborn’s inability to suck or breastfeed, and excessive crying.

How Is Tetanus Caused?

Tetanus develops because of a toxin made by spores of bacteria, Clostridium tetani. It is mostly present in the soil, dust, and animal feces.

Once the spores enter a deep flesh wound, they grow into bacteria producing a powerful toxin, tetanospasmin.

These toxins weaken the nerves responsible for controlling your muscles (motor neurons), resulting in muscle stiffness and spasms(major signs and symptoms of tetanus).

After this stage, only the prevention of tetanus is possible, not the cure. 

The majority of tetanus infected people were not vaccinated in case of children or never received the second shot of the vaccine before adolescence.

Below is a list of risk factors that increases the risk of tetanus infection, such as:-

  • If you are not vaccinated at all
  • Even if you miss the second shot of the vaccine, before adolescent
  • An injury that let the tetanus bacteria spores into the wound
  • Puncture wounds including from splinters, body piercings, tattoos, and injection drugs
  • Burns
  • Wounds through gunshot
  • Dental infections
  • Compound fractures
  • Wounds at the time of surgery
  • Foreign particles, such as a nail or splinter
  • Injection drug use
  • Bites of animal or insects
  • Infected foot ulcers
  • Infants born from an inadequately vaccinated mothers

How Is Tetanus Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose tetanus infection through immunization history, physical or medical exam, and the signs and symptoms of muscle spasms, stiffness, and pain. Laboratory tests usually are not that helpful for diagnosing tetanus.

Also Read: Need Of Vaccine For Travelers

Can Tetanus Go Away On Its Own?

There’s no cure to tetanus infection. Treatment only focuses on managing complications until the effects of the tetanus toxin is resolved. Treatment for tetanus includes wound care, medications to ease symptoms, and supportive care.

Wound care

It is necessary to clean the wound with clean water or antiseptics in order to prevent the growth of tetanus spores by removing dirt, foreign objects, and dead tissue from the wound.


  • Antitoxin: The doctor may recommend a tetanus antitoxin, such as tetanus immune globulin. Although, the antitoxin can neutralize only toxin that hasn’t yet bonded to nerve tissue.
  • Antibiotics: The doctor may also prescribe you antibiotics, which must be consumed either orally or by injection, to fight tetanus infection.
  • Sedatives: Doctors generally recommend powerful sedatives to control muscle spasms.
  • Other drugs: Drugs, such as magnesium sulfate and certain beta-blockers, help in regulating involuntary muscle activity, such as your heartbeat and breathing. Morphine can also be used for this purpose.
  • Vaccine: It is the only effective way of treating tetanus infection. Since the tetanus infection cannot be cured, the only possible way to prevent it is the tetanus vaccine.

Here is a list of vaccinations that not only protect against tetanus infection but also from other infections, such as:-

  • DTaP protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough)
  • DT protects against diphtheria and tetanus
  • Tdap protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
  • Td protects against tetanus and diphtheria

According to the Center For Disease Control And Prevention, the WHO recommends having at least six vaccine shorts to protect against tetanus infection. The first three shots of the vaccine should be given before one year of age, followed by the other three shots before adolescence(10 years).

Supportive therapies

In case a person is infected severely with a tetanus infection, he might have to stay in an intensive care setting. As sedatives can make your breathing difficult, you may require a ventilator temporarily.

Tetanus Prevention 

Tetanus infection cannot be cured but can only be prevented through immunization with tetanus-toxoid-containing vaccines (TTCV), which are included in routine immunization programs globally and administered during antenatal care contacts. 

To remain immune to this infection, WHO recommends that an individual receive a total of 6 doses (3 primary and 3 booster doses) of TTCV in their life.

The 3-dose primary series should be provided as early as 6 weeks of age, followed by the second dose with a minimum difference of 4 weeks between doses. 

The 3 booster doses are recommended during the second year of life at 4–7 years of age and at 9–15 years of age. In fact, there should be at least 4 years between booster doses. 

Below is a list of many types of vaccinations that can help you prevent tetanus infection:- 

  • Diphtheria and tetanus (DT) vaccines
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccines 
  • Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccines
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) (DTaP) vaccines

Neonatal tetanus can be avoided through immunizing women of reproductive age with TTCV, either during pregnancy or outside of pregnancy.

Additionally, robust medical practices can also prevent tetanus disease, including clean delivery and cord care during childbirth and proper wound care for surgical and dental procedures.


Tags: What causes tetanus, Tetanus treatment, Tetanus vaccine

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Janet Fudge

Janet Fudge writes on general health topics for CheapMedicineShop.com. She holds a post-graduate diploma in Public Health with a major in epidemiology. During the outbreak of COVID-19, Janet actively volunteered in vaccination drives throughout the state of Iowa. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children.