Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system, leading to painful muscle contractions, particularly of the jaw and neck muscles. You may have heard this referred to as ‘lockjaw’.
Tetanus can interfere with your ability to breathe and can result in death. Cases of tetanus are rare in the developed world thanks to the tetanus vaccine but the incidence is much higher in developing countries. There are around one million cases worldwide every year.
How could I contract tetanus?
Tetanus is the only vaccine-preventable disease that is infectious but is not contagious, meaning that you will not contract it from someone who has the disease. The bacterium that causes tetanus (Clostridium tetani) is found in soil, dust and animal faeces (manure). The disease is caused by the bacteria entering a deep flesh wound, where it can start to produce a neurotoxin which affects nerves controlling your muscles.
Risk of serious implications of tetanus is higher if you have a deep open wound or if you have an object such as a nail or splinter stuck deep under your skin. Additionally if you have not been immunised or have not had a booster shot your risk of having serious complications increases.
Animal bites, burns, ‘puncture wounds’ – splinters, body piercings, tattoos, injected drugs – and even gunshot wounds have all been associated with tetanus infections.
Is it preventable?
Yes, a vaccine against tetanus is available and often given in conjunction with diphtheria and/or pertussis. Sometimes it is recommended that adults who have suffered a potentially tetanus-prone wound should receive a tetanus booster vaccination.
Click here to read more about tetanus from the Mayo Clinic.