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Disease Control

Tetanus (Lockjaw) is a serious disease, which causes painful tightening of the muscles. The muscle tightness can lead to “locking” of the jaw, preventing the mouth from opening and swallowing. Tetanus can lead to death in 1 in 10 cases. All the cases were among people who never received a tetanus shot. This disease is very uncommon in the US, but it is unique from other diseases as it does not spread from person to person. There are vaccines available to prevent the onset of tetanus among children, teens, and adults.

  • Transmission and Symptoms
  • Complications
  • Treatment
  • Vaccination and Side Effects


Tetanus is caused by the bacteria Clostridium Tetani, which is found in the soil (ground dirt) of the environment, contact with the spit (saliva) or poop (bowel movement) of a person infected with tetanus. Soil can enter the body through a break in the skin, from punctures to the skin with nails, screws or needles. The bacteria can also enter the body from severe burns, crush injuries, and injuries involving dead tissue.

There are some cases where tetanus is transmitted in a rare way, such as, when the top layer of skin is scraped off, during a surgical procedure, by an insect bite or dental infections. Additionally, the bacteria can enter the body when a person has chronic sores, infections, or through IV drug use.

Population Affected by Tetanus Disease

People with diabetes (high blood sugar) and IV drug users are most at risk for tetanus because they are not able to fight off infections. Those who don’t get vaccines and  those >65 years of age are also at high-risk. Most importantly to remember are individuals with breaks in the skin. These people are the main population to be concerned about because this is the main way the bacteria is spread.


  • Lockjaw and neck stiffness
  • Headache
  • Sudden, involuntary muscle tightening-often in the stomach (muscle spasms)
  • Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Jerking or staring (seizures)
  • Fever and sweating
  • High blood pressure and fast heart rate


The symptoms of tetanus develop more over time it causes some majors complications. There is a chance of there being an uncontrolled/involuntary muscular contraction of the vocal cords, blockage of one of the main artery of the lung, difficulty breathing or lung infection. Since this can develop quickly, it is important to get a diagnosis of tetanus from a health care provider immediately.

What is the treatment for tetanus disease?

The first treatment option once a person has contracted tetanus is to be hospitalized. At the hospital they will be able to make a clear diagnosis of the disease. The next step would to disperse a human tetanus immune globulin (TIG) and the tetanus vaccine. The individual would also need to take antibiotics and drugs to control muscle spasms. Aggressive wound care is also needed so that no more bacteria is able to enter back into the body. All of these measures need to be taken in a timely manner, as death is a possibility from contracting this disease.

How can I reduce my chances of becoming infected with tetanus?

The first way to decrease the risk of getting tetanus is to get vaccinated at an early age because this prepares your immune system better. There are four types of vaccines that you can receive, so it is important to know which ones are the ones you need. As an adult the shots you need will be different from the one you get for your child. If you do happen to have large wound area around soil, it is important to practice immediate and proper wound care to prevent infection. If you have any questions about the immunization you need or proper wound care contact the Florida Department of Health or your local health care provider.

Vaccine Information

The vaccine DTaP (Diphtheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis) is used among children under the age of 7. DT =Diphtheria-Tetanus is also suitable for the young children under the age of 7. For children 7 and over there were vaccines Td and Tdap. Td stands for Tetanus-diphtheria vaccine; Tdap represents Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine. Vaccines with upper-case letters in these abbreviations denote full-strength doses of diphtheria (D) and tetanus (T) toxoids and pertussis (P) vaccine. Lower-case “d” and “p” denote reduced doses of diphtheria and pertussis used in the adolescent /adult-formulations. The “a” in DTaP and Tdap stands for “acellular”, meaning that the pertussis component contains only a part of the pertussis organism.

Mild side effects of DTap, Td, Tdap

When taking any medicine there is a possibility of some side effects. Mild side effects from receiving a vaccine might be redness or swelling in injection area, soreness or tenderness where the shot was given. Other side effects include fussiness, tiredness, poor appetite, and vomiting. Some of the more moderate side effects of the vaccine are seizures (jerking or staring), non-stop crying for 3 hours or more, and a high fever over 105 degrees. The more severe side effects to be worried about might be a serious allergic reaction, long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness, or permanent brain damage.