Tetanus is characterized by muscular spasms in the jaw due to the Clostridium tetani bacteria. It is important to note that tetanus is dangerous, but getting a shot can prevent it. Aside from the muscle spasms, it can also cause seizures and difficulty in breathing or swallowing.

Individuals who were not immunized or has not received a booster in the last 10 years are likely to acquire tetanus.

How to prevent tetanus

Tetanus can be prevented by getting the recommended immunizations. There are various combination immunizations that include the vaccine for tetanus:

  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) – this includes 5 shots starting at the age of 2 months and ends at ages 4-6 years.

    The symptoms often start with a headache and difficulty opening the mouth. There is also difficulty swallowing and/or stiff back, neck or shoulders.

  • TdaP (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) – this is the initial shot for tetanus and recommended for teenagers 14-16 years of age who had received all the shots in the DTaP series.
  • Td (tetanus and diphtheria) – this is administered as a booster every 10 years

If an individual has not received the tetanus shot as a child or not sure if he/she had them, 3 shots of tetanus are required in a 1-year span. After this, a booster shot every 10 years is advised.

What are the indications?

The symptoms of tetanus develop slowly and worsen over time. The time required for the symptoms to manifest after a wound or injury ranges from days to months. In most instances, the symptoms settle within 14 days.

The symptoms often start with a headache and difficulty opening the mouth. There is also difficulty swallowing and/or stiff back, neck or shoulders.

Once the toxin multiples, it can be fatal. This can lead to issues with the blood pressure as well as the heart rate. It can cause significant and tender muscle spasms in the arms, neck, legs and abdomen. In case the spasms persist and worsen, broken bones can occur including the spine.


If infected by tetanus, treatment in a healthcare facility is required so that medications and fluids are given to control the muscle spasms and pain. Treatment is also started to help the individual take in breaths normally.

The doctor will thoroughly cleanse any cut or wound to eliminate the bacteria. Cleansing the affected area prevents the bacteria from releasing toxins. The treatment also includes the following:

  • Antibiotics
  • Tetanus immunoglobulin – this is a protein that helps the immune system find and destroy the bacteria. It also boosts immunity as the body fights the infection.
  • Medications to reduce the muscle spasms. The individual might be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) with medications that paralyze the muscles briefly until the body starts to recover. In such cases, treatment to assist with breathing and other bodily functions are started.

After acquiring tetanus, the individual is not immune to the disease. There is still the risk for being infected again, thus getting the routine tetanus shots after getting better is recommended.