Tetanus is a sometimes fatal disease of the central nervous system. It's caused by a poison (toxin) made by the tetanus bacterium. The bacterium usually enters the body through an open wound. Tetanus bacteria live in soil and manure. They can also be found in the human intestine and other places.
Tetanus is caused by the toxin of the bacterium clostridium tetani. It’s not spread from person to person. It occurs in people who have had a skin or deep tissue wound or puncture. It’s also seen in the umbilical stump of infants in underdeveloped countries. This occurs in places where immunization to tetanus is not widespread and where parents may not know how to care for the stump after the baby is born. After being exposed to tetanus, it may take from 3 to 21 days to develop any symptoms. In infants, symptoms may take from 3 days to 2 weeks to develop.
These are the most common symptoms of tetanus:
The symptoms of tetanus may look like other medical conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Diagnosis is based on a complete history and physical exam.
Your healthcare provider will determine your specific treatment for tetanus based on:
Complications of tetanus can include:
A DTaP shot is a combination vaccine that protects against 3 diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The CDC recommends that children receive 5 DTaP shots. The first 3 shots are given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. Between 15 and 18 months of age, the fourth shot is given, and a fifth is given when a child enters school at 4 to 6 years of age. At regular checkups for 11- or 12-year-olds, a preteen should get a dose of Tdap. The Tdap booster contains tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine. If an adult did not get a Tdap as a preteen or teen, he or she should get a dose of Tdap instead of the Td booster. Adults should get a Td booster every 10 years, but it can be given before the 10-year mark. Always see your healthcare provider for advice.
If you get a wound from an object that is contaminated with dirt, animal feces, or manure, you should see your healthcare provider for a tetanus booster shot if it has been more than 5 years since your previous vaccination or you can’t remember your last vaccination.
If you have any of the symptoms listed in the symptoms section, seek medical care immediately, as tetanus requires urgent attention.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200