Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious but preventable disease that affects the body's muscles and nerves.
It's often referred to as "lockjaw" because it can cause painful spasms and stiffness in your jaw muscles.
Tetanus is a serious infection that can be life-threatening, and is easily prevented with vaccination.
Any time you get a wound that may become contaminated with soil or environmental contents, you are at risk for tetanus.
The disease can lead to serious complications, and even death. Tetanus is a medical emergency that requires treatment in a hospital.
Most cases occur in people who have not been vaccinated.
Causes and Risk Factors of Tetanus
Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases because it does not spread from person to person.
The bacteria that causes the disease are usually found in soil, dust, and manure and enter the body through breaks in the skin. These cuts or puncture wounds can be caused by contaminated objects (for example, cutting your foot on a rusty nail).
- Puncture wounds — including from splinters, body piercings, tattoos, and injection drugs
- Gunshot wounds
- Compound fractures
- Surgical wounds
- Injection drug use
- Animal or insect bites
- Infected foot ulcers
- Dental infections
- Infected umbilical stumps in newborns born of inadequately vaccinated mothers
Duration of Tetanus
Complications of Tetanus
- Uncontrolled or involuntary tightening of the vocal cords (laryngospasm)
- Broken bones (fractures)
- Infections acquired by a patient during a hospital visit (nosocomial infections)
- Blockage of the main artery of the lung or one of its branches by a blood clot that has travelled from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream (pulmonary embolism)
- Pneumonia, a lung infection, that develops by breathing in foreign materials (aspiration pneumonia)
- Breathing difficulty, possibly leading to death
Related Conditions to Tetanus
- Local infections
- Trauma to the jaw
- Systemic diseases (such as lupus and scleroderma)
- Neoplasms (an abnormal mass of tissue)
- Central nervous system disorders
Resources We Love
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
A great source for up-to-date health information for many diseases, including tetanus.
Here you can find helpful information on the symptoms and treatment for tetanus, as well as immunization schedules and details on vaccinations.
Additional reporting by Cathy Cassata.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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