What is Tetanus?
Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a toxin, or poison, that causes your muscles to tighten and cramp painfully. Tetanus infection mainly affects the neck, chest, and stomach. Tetanus is also called “lockjaw” because it often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. It can also cause breathing problems, severe muscle spasms, and seizures. The muscle spasms can be strong enough to break your bones, and you might have to spend several weeks in the hospital under intensive care. Complete recovery can take months. If left untreated, tetanus can be deadly.
How is Tetanus Spread?
Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases in that it does not spread from person to person. Instead, the bacteria are usually found in soil, dust and manure, and enter the body through breaks in the skin — usually cuts or puncture wounds.
The extreme rarity of tetanus cases among individuals immunized up to 10 years prior to infection suggests an efficacy rate of nearly 100% for tetanus toxoid. Immunity levels do decrease with time, however, so that boosters against tetanus are recommended every 10 years in order to maintain protection against the disease.
A tetanus booster is recommended for individuals who sustain any wound that is not clean and minor, if more than five years have passed since their last dose of tetanus toxoid.