Tetanus is disease caused by a bacterial infection that affects the nervous system. The bacteria make a toxin, or poison, that causes painful muscle contractions, particularly of the jaw and neck muscles and because of that, tetanus is commonly known as "lockjaw." Tetanus can also cause seizures and severe muscle spasms and individuals  may experience heavy breathing or swallowing. Tetanus can cause problems with the blood pressure, heart rate and it can be deadly. Tetanus is not contagious from person to person.  

Thanks to the tetanus vaccine, cases of tetanus are rare in the developed world. The incidence of tetanus is much higher in people who have never been immunized or haven't had a booster in the last 10 years.



Signs and symptoms of tetanus after a tetanus bacteria has entered the body through a wound, cut or injury range from a few days to several weeks or even  months. In most cases, the incubation period is seven to eight days.

Tetanus symptoms appear slowly and get worse over time. Common signs and symptoms of tetanus are:

  • Headaches and spasms and stiffness of the jaw muscles
  • Stif neck,back and shoulders
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness of the abdominal muscles
  • Painful muscle spasms in the arms and legs

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate



The bacterium that causes tetanus is Clostridium tetani which spores are found in soil, dust and animal excrement. When the bacteria enter a deep wound, spores of the bacteria produce a powerful toxin, tetanospasmin, which enter the blood stream. After the incubation period, the toxin blocks the relaxation of the muscles and impairs the motor neurons, nerves that control the muscles.


Risk Factors

Factors necessary for tetanus bacteria to proliferate include:

  • No or inadequate immunization against tetanus
  • Injuries, cuts, burns, wounds, injection drug use, ear infections, animal bites, infected
  • Foreign, dirty, dusty objects, such as a nail or splinter



Tetanus is easily prevented by being immunized against the toxin. Almost all cases of tetanus occur in people who've never been immunized or who haven't had a tetanus booster shot within the last 10 years.