Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that releases a powerful toxin (poison) into the body. It is a serious disease, which can be fatal even with medical treatment. In developed countries, such as the UK, tetanus is rare due to vaccination programmes, but it is found worldwide.


Symptoms include fever, stiffness of the jaw (“lockjaw”), muscles in the back, trunk, hands and feet becoming rigid, followed by painful spasms. Breathing muscles can be affected.

How do you catch tetanus?

Cells produced by the bacteria (spores) are present in soil, manure and occasionally in injected drugs and enter the body through a wound or break in the skin.

Incubation period

3 – 21 days


As there may not be a noticeable wound, diagnosis is made based on the symptoms. Some laboratory test.


Clean all wounds with soap and water. Seek medical advice even if vaccinated, in case antibiotics are needed. A booster vaccine can be given to travellers who have had the primary UK childhood schedule. It comes as a combined vaccination with diphtheria and polio.


Hospital treatment is required, in intensive care. Tetanus and other vaccinations are given