Tetanus Fact Sheet

Tetanus, also known as ‘lock jaw’ is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which is found everywhere – in the ground and in dirt – we can’t see it or ever stop coming into contact with it. It makes us ill if it gets into our body through a cut. Anyone – babies, children and adults – can get ill with tetanus. It is most dangerous for babies when they are born and their umbilical cord is cut. If the cord is cut with a dirty blade then tetanus can get into the wound and make the baby very ill. The disease is caused by a poison the bacteria makes when it is in our body. The poison affects our muscles and nervous system and is very dangerous and can kill us. We can protect ourselves against it with immunisation.

Symptoms

  • First:
    • Headache
    • Stiffness in the jaw
    • Stiffness in the neck
    • Difficulty swallowing
  • Later:
    • Rigidity of tummy muscles
    • Spasms
    • Sweating
    • Fever

‘Joseph cut his foot in his field. Tetanus germs got into the wound on his foot, along with the dirt. A week later all his muscles became tight and made his body stiff. They took him to hospital but we do not know if he will get better.

When Vimia had her baby, they cut the cord with a dirty knife, and germs got into the cord stump. A week later the baby became stiff and stopped sucking. Later he had convulsions and died.’

Tetanus

Everyone needs to have tetanus immunisations including adults and we all need boosters to keep our protection strong.

Treatment

Tetanus is a medical emergency and anyone who has the symptoms of tetanus must be taken to hospital right away. In hospital they can be treated with:

  • a special medicine called human tetanus immune globulin (TIG) (or equine antitoxin)
  • drugs to control muscle spasms
  • medicines called antibiotics.

They are also given the Tetanus vaccine right away and the place where the tetanus got into their body has to be treated and cared for.

If the tetanus infection is very bad then a machine may be used to help them breathe.

Immunisation

We can protect ourselves against tetanus by immunisation. Tetanus is given with other important immunisations for diphtheria and pertussis, and together they are called ‘DTP’ (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis). The World Health Organisation recommends that DTP is given to babies when they are six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks old. Then we need tetanus boosters when we start primary school (aged 4-7) and again when we start high school (aged 12-17) and one more when we are an adult. Pregnant women must also be given immunisation against tetanus to protect themselves and their baby who becomes protected as well.

Resources

World Health Organisation
There is a health topic on tetanus with lots of information and a fact sheet on tetanus.

Centres for Disease Control (CDC)
The CDC has lots of information on tetanus and immunisation. Their BAM! Section for children includes a fact sheet on Tetanus, which is given the nickname ‘spazzoids’ in its comic book approach to teaching children about diseases.

Immunisation Action Coalition
This is an organisation in the USA that encourages parents to make sure their children have all their immunisations and it produces some useful fact sheets. There is a tetanus questions and answers fact sheet you can download. There is also a downloadable fact sheet on DTP immunisation.