Infectious Diseases

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What is Tetanus?

Tetanus (also called lockjaw) is caused by a germ. If you have a cut or skin wound that gets infected with the tetanus germ you may get tetanus. Tetanus germs are found everywhere, usually in soil, dust and manure. It does not spread from person to person. Tetanus usually causes cramping of the muscles in the neck, arms, legs and stomach, and painful convulsions that can be severe enough to break bones.

How is it spread?

The bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin. Any type of injury that breaks the skin can lead

to a tetanus infection if:

  • Tetanus enters the body through broken skin


  • The person is not properly vaccinated against tetanus

Some common types of wounds that can lead to a tetanus infection include:

  • Body piercings
  • Lacerations
  • Cuts
  • Surgical wounds
  • Injection drug use
  • Animal bites
  • Tattoos
  • Scrapes
  • Splinters

Tetanus is not spread person-to-person.

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms of the disease include locking of the jaw, difficulty swallowing and stiffness in the neck and abdomen. This is followed by fever, and severe muscles spasms. Death can occur.

What is the treatment for Tetanus?

Patients with tetanus are admitted to hospital. Treatment is determined by the type of wound and the history of tetanus immunization. This may include intramuscular injection of Tetanus Immune Globulin (TIG), antibiotics, muscle relaxants and supportive treatment such as breathing assistance. Patients with no history of tetanus immunization should start the course of vaccination to prevent tetanus in the future.

How do I protect myself and others?

The best way to prevent tetanus is to be completely immunized. Tetanus vaccine is a part of routine childhood immunizations and is given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 18 months, 4-6 years of age, 14-16 years of age and then every 10 years in adulthood.

Please contact your health care provider or the Vaccine Preventable Disease Team at the health unit, should you have questions about immunizations.

In the event of a puncture or other deep wound, clean the wound immediately. Although it is important to clean all wounds, remember that cleaning is not a substitute for immunization. All cuts and wounds should be promptly assessed by a health care provider.

Are there any special concerns about Tetanus?

A person who has had tetanus can get sick with it again, therefore keeping tetanus immunization up-to- date is important.

If it's been more than 10 years since someone in your family has had a tetanus booster, schedule an office visit to bring immunizations up to date.

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