Do You Need a Tetanus Shot?
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Tetanus, sometimes called lockjaw, is a rare disease caused by bacteria known as Clostridium tetani. A toxin produced by the bacteria affects the function of the nerves and leads to severe muscle spasmsin the abdomen, neck, stomach, and extremities. Tetanus can either be localized to one part of the body or generalized, with muscle spasms throughout the body. The disease has been called lockjaw since the muscle spasms in the face and neck can lead to the inability to open the mouth, and this is one of the most common symptoms of tetanus. Tetanus is a serious illness that is fatal in up to 30% of cases.
The bacteria that cause tetanus can be found in soil, manure, or dust. They infect humans by entering the body through cuts or puncture wounds, particularly when the wound area is dirty. Animal bites, burns, and non-sterile injection of drugs can also lead to infection with Clostridium tetani. The first symptoms of tetanus can appear any time from three days to weeks after infection, but the average time until symptom onset is eight days. Tetanus is not contagious, so you cannot acquire the disease from someone who has it.