Tetanus is a serious disease of the nervous system caused by a toxin-producing bacterium. Symptoms include muscle contractions, particularly of the jaw and neck muscles. Tetanus is commonly known as lockjaw.
Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases because it does not spread from person to person. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust, and manure and enter the body through breaks in the skin — usually cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects.
Symptoms of Tetanus include:
Sudden, involuntary muscle tightening (muscle spasms) — often in the stomach
Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
Jerking or staring (seizures)
Fever and sweating
Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
Protection against Tetanus comes via a Tetanus toxoid—inactivated Tetanus toxin. This vaccine is available both as a single immunization (Tetanus alone) or a multiple combination preparation. The two most common are DTaP, which protects against Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis for children younger than seven; and Td, which protects against Tetanus and Diphtheria for people seven or older.
Immunity levels decrease with time, so boosters are recommended every ten years to protect against the disease.
Boosters are also recommended for individuals who sustain any wound that is not clean and for minors if more than five years have passed since their last dose.
The U.S. childhood immunization schedule recommends five doses of DTaP to protect against Tetanus and Diphtheria and Pertussis, with the first dose given at two months of age.
The bacteria that cause Tetanus live nearly everywhere and can lead to an infection when the bacteria enter through a break in the skin. A Tetanus shot can help you stay safe and avoid Tetanus while doing everyday activities that could expose you to the bacteria, such as handling soil and dirt, cleaning up pet feces, and dusting the furniture in your home.
Nearly all cases of Tetanus are among people who never received the Tetanus vaccine or who haven’t received a booster shot in at least ten years. Other risk factors for Tetanus include diabetes, intravenous drug use, and history of immunosuppression.
Complications from Tetanus can be quite severe. Spasms of the vocal cords or the muscles used for respiration can cause breathing problems; sustained muscle spasms and convulsions can result in broken bones. The disease’s effects on the nervous system can lead to high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms.