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Learn about tetanus, who is at risk, how it spreads, and how to prevent it.

About tetanus

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:

  • “lock jaw,” where your mouth stays closed and can’t open widely
  • muscle spasms
  • trouble swallowing and breathing
  • seizures
  • death

There is no cure for tetanus.

Learn more about tetanus.

Who is most at risk?

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.

How it spreads

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.

Current as of: June 30, 2023
Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services
Our work takes place on historical and contemporary Indigenous lands, including the territories of Treaty 6, Treaty 7 & Treaty 8 and the homeland of the Métis Nation of Alberta and 8 Métis Settlements. We also acknowledge the many Indigenous communities that have been forged in urban centres across Alberta.