• Tetanus



    Tetanus (also known as lockjaw) is an infection marked by prolonged muscle spasms. The infection creates a toxin that affects the nervous system. It can be fatal if left untreated.
    Nervous System
    CNS and PNS
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Tetanus is caused by specific bacteria that is found in soil, dust, or manure. It enters your body through a break in the skin. Once inside the body, the bacteria create a toxin. This toxin causes tetanus.

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of tetanus include:
    • Lack of tetanus vaccination, regular booster shots, or not updating tetanus vaccination in timely manner
    • IV drug use
    • Skin sores or wounds
    • Burns
    • Exposure of open wounds to soil or animal feces


    Tetanus may cause:
    • Headache
    • Stiff jaw muscles or neck muscles
    • Drooling or trouble swallowing
    • Muscle spasticity or rigidity
    • Sweating
    • Fever
    • Irritability
    • Pain or tingling at a wound site
    • Seizures
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Heart beat that is too fast or too slow


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is mainly based on the medical history.
    Your doctor may test the wound. A culture will grow the bacteria causing the infection. Culture results are not always accurate for tetanus.


    Treatment may include:
    • Hospitalization—to manage complications of the infection
    • Opening and cleaning the wound—entire wounded area may need to be surgically removed
    • Antibiotics to fight the bacteria
    • Tetanus immune globulin—antibodies against tetanus that help neutralize the tetanus toxin
    • A tetanus shot—if your tetanus vaccine is not up to date
    • Medication to treat symptoms—may include antiseizure medication or muscle relaxants
    Tetanus can cause severe problems with breathing or swallowing. A breathing tube may be inserted in the throat. This will help keep the airway open until you heal. A surgical procedure called a tracheotomy may be done. This will provide an open airway if your upper airway cannot be accessed.


    The best means of prevention is immunization. The immunization schedule for tetanus is as follows:
    • All children, with few exceptions should receive the, DTaP vaccine series. This protects against diphtheria , tetanus, and pertussis .
    • A single dose of Tdap vaccine is recommended for children aged 11 years or older, even if they did not receive the DTaP.
    • Adults should receive a booster dose of the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td) every 10 years. They may also receive this vaccine after an exposure to tetanus. It is not harmful to receive a tetanus vaccination earlier than 10 years.
    If you or your child has not been fully vaccinated, talk to the doctor. There are catch-up schedules available.
    In addition to the vaccine, you can prevent tetanus by taking proper care of wounds:
    • Promptly clean all wounds.
    • See your doctor for medical care of wounds.


    National Foundation for Infectious Diseases http://www.nfid.org

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases http://www.niaid.nih.gov


    Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca

    The College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca


    ACOG Committee Opinion No. 566: Update on immunization and pregnancy: Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccination. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;121(6):1411-1414. Reaffirmed 2015.

    Strikas RA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), ACIP Child/Adolescent Immunization Work Group. Advisory committee on immunization practices recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0 through 18 years—United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(4):93-94.

    Tetanus (lockjaw) vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/tetanus/default.htm. Updated February 10, 2015. Accessed August 12, 2015.

    1/24/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (tdap) vaccine from the advisory committee on immunization practices, 2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(1):13-15.

    11/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) in pregnant women and persons who have or anticipate having close contact with an infant aged <12 months—Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60:1424-1426.

    4/1/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Bridges CB, Coyne-Beasley T, et al. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older—United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014. 63(7):110-112.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.