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What is tetanus?
Tetanus is caused by a bacterium, which lives in dirt, dust, soil, feces, and sometimes in animal saliva.
The bacteria can get into your body wherever your skin is broken. This can happen from a scrape or scratch, or from a puncture wound such as from a rusty (dirty) nail.
The bacteria produce a poison that affects your nerves (a neurotoxin). This makes your muscles tighten, cramp, and become stiff and painful. You may also have difficulty swallowing and breathing. The first muscles affected are usually in the jaw, so tetanus is sometimes called lockjaw.
What is my risk?
Speak with one of our Travel Health Specialists to understand the risk of tetanus for your trip.
Tetanus occurs worldwide, and people of any age can get it. Infants and the elderly are most vulnerable. Older people are often unaware that their immunization may have waned over time, if they have not received regular booster shots.
How is it transmitted?
Tetanus is contracted when the bacterium enters the body via broken skin. You cannot get tetanus just from touching an infected object. There has to be at least a tiny cut, scratch or scrape in your skin for the bacteria to get in.
Tetanus does not spread directly from person to person.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms typically appear after 3 to 21 days. Sometimes tetanus symptoms appear more quickly or slowly. The interval may range from just 1 day to several months.
The most common symptom of tetanus is sudden cramping and tightening of muscles, beginning with the neck and face. The jaw often locks shut. This is why tetanus is sometimes called lockjaw.
Other symptoms include: headache, trouble swallowing, seizures (violent jerking or shaking of the body), fever and sweating, high blood pressure, and fast heart rate.
Can tetanus be treated?
There is no cure for the infection itself, but treatment in hospital can control the symptoms.
Speak with one of our Travel Health Specialists preferably six weeks before you travel.
Get vaccinated. Discuss vaccination booster shots with one of our Travel Health Specialists.
- Tetanus may be vaccinated against independently, or in conjunction with Diphtheria and Pertussis.