Tetanus Fact Sheet

Mar 14, 2024

What is Tetanus? All you need to know about Tetanus and more

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus – otherwise known as “lockjaw” – is an infection caused by the toxin of the bacteria Clostridium tetani. It is a potentially fatal infection. Clostridium tetani spores are prevalent globally and can be found in soil, animal and human excrement, and dust. Unlike other vaccine-preventable diseases, Tetanus cannot be spread from person to person.

What causes Tetanus?

Common causes:

  • Puncture wounds (e.g. nails, needles)
  • Wounds contaminated with dirt or faeces (e.g. animal bites)
  • Burns
  • Recreational intravenous drug use
  • Traditional application of cow dung to umbilical stumps of newborns in certain communities

Who is most at risk of contracting Tetanus?

  • Farm workers
  • Abattoir workers
  • Veterinarians
  • Healthcare workers
  • Newborns, especially those exposed to animal faeces via umbilical stumps

What are the symptoms of Tetanus?

Clostridium tetani spores can enter the body through broken skin. They then release a toxin causing muscle spasms, particularly in the neck and jaw and eventually the muscles required for breathing. Most symptoms occur within 14 days of infection (known as the incubation period).

Symptoms include:

  • Fever and sweating
  • Stiff muscles throughout the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Headache

How do we prevent Tetanus?

Prevention of Tetanus infections is done by receiving routine childhood vaccinations and subsequent booster vaccinations.

Tetanus vaccinations are received at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks and 18 months with boosters at 6 years and 12 years. Pregnant women may receive the tetanus vaccine, which will in turn protect the foetus. There is no life-long protection. Booster shots are recommended at 10 year intervals.

Prompt and adequate wound care can also help prevent Tetanus, along with other potential infections.

When should I get a Tetanus shot after an injury?

If the injury is clean and you have not had a tetanus booster in the last 10 years, it is recommended to get a tetanus booster.

If the wound is due to an animal bite or is unclean and you have not received a booster in the last 5 years, it is recommended to get a tetanus booster.

If you cannot remember when last you received a Tetanus booster, it is still safe to receive one. It is better to be safe than sorry!

It is best to do this within 72 hours of injury.

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