Tetanus is a triggered by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. The toxin produced by the bacteria attacks the nervous system of the individual. Even though the disease is relatively uncommon at the present, it can be deadly.

What are the indications?

The initial signs and symptoms of tetanus include the following:

  • Stiff neck, shoulder and back muscles
  • Painful muscle spasms that start in the jaw
  • Convulsions

    Stiff neck, shoulder and back muscles are indications of tetanus.

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Violent generalized muscle spasms
  • Difficulty breathing

The individual might have fever or even erratic heart rhythms. The possible complications include fractures, pneumonia, cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.

How does it spread?

Tetanus typically develops after an incubation period of 3-21 days. The causative bacteria are usually present in animal feces and dust. The infection can develop after sustaining a minor injury or after significant injuries such as burns, open fractures and penetrating wounds.

Neonatal tetanus can occur among infants born to mothers who were not properly immunized especially after treatment of the umbilical cord stump is unsterile.

Preventive measures

Immunization provides protection against tetanus. The vaccine is usually given at the ages of 2, 4 and 6 months old with the booster shots at 4 years old, between 15-17 and at 50 years old.

Adults who have not received a booster shot in the last 10 years must receive one if they reach 50 years old. Adults who sustained wounds that are at high risk for tetanus must be disinfected and immediately seek medical care so that a booster shot is given if it has been more than 5 years since the last dose.

In case there is doubt on the history of previous vaccinations, tetanus toxoid must be given.


The doctor will diagnose tetanus based on the symptoms and the results of the examination. When it comes to treatment, it might include antibiotics, antitoxin and surgery of the infected area as well as prolonged treatment in an intensive care unit.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on tetanus is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to more about proper wound care including potential complications such as tetanus, register for a first aid and CPR course with Vancouver First Aid.


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