Alberta Health Services
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that attacks the nervous system. It causes uncontrolled movements (spasms) in the muscles of the jaw and other muscles of the body, including the muscles that control breathing.
Tetanus can cause:
There is no cure for tetanus.
Learn more about tetanus.
People who are not immunized are at highest risk. Older adults, people who were born outside of Canada, and people who don’t have a record of being fully immunized for tetanus are more likely to have no protection.
About 1 to 8 out of 10 people who get tetanus and are not immunized can die. Babies and older adults are most at risk.
Tetanus infection is rare because there has been a vaccine since the 1940s. Most people have been immunized against it.
Tetanus bacteria are common in dirt, dust, manure (animal stool used as fertilizer), and human stool. The bacteria can get into your body through a cut on your skin or an animal bite. For example, if you have an open cut and are gardening, dirt with the tetanus bacteria can get into your body.
Symptoms of tetanus disease usually start with a sore, stiff jaw and neck, and difficulty swallowing.
Other symptoms can happen as the disease gets worse, including:
Sometimes the muscle spasms are so severe that they can result in broken bones, and even lead to seizures and death.
Tetanus can be prevented by getting a vaccine. Common vaccines that protect against tetanus are:
The type of tetanus vaccine you get depends on your age and if you need protection from other diseases.
You will need a tetanus vaccine as soon as possible if you have a dirty cut, wound, or burn and 5 or more years have passed since your last tetanus vaccine.
The Td vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria. Td vaccine is no longer available in Alberta. It used to be given to adults who needed this protection because they didn't have their childhood immunizations or because they needed an extra (booster) dose. The dTap vaccine is now given for this.
If you get a cut or wound that is likely to have tetanus bacteria, and you haven’t had at least 3 doses of a tetanus vaccine, you may get tetanus immune globulin for fast protection and to help prevent tetanus disease.
Immune globulins give quick, short-term protection. For long-term protection, you need a vaccine.
Learn more about tetanus immune globulin.