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Health Information For Parents
Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious but preventable disease that affects the body’s muscles and nerves.
Starting at 2 months of age, all babies in the United States are vaccinated against tetanus. The disease is much more common in developing countries than it is in the United States.
Tetanus is caused by a type of
called Clostridium tetani that usually live in soil. The bacteria make a toxin (a chemical or poison that harms the body). This toxin attaches to nerves around a wound area and travels inside the nerves to the brain or spinal cord. There it interferes with the normal activity of nerves, especially the motor nerves that send direct messages to muscles.
In the United States, most cases of tetanus follow a contaminated cut or deep puncture injury, such as a wound caused by stepping on a nail. Sometimes the injury is so small the person never even sees a doctor.
Tetanus is most common in:
Another form of tetanus, neonatal tetanus, happens in newborns born in unsanitary conditions, especially if the umbilical cord stump becomes contaminated. Routine immunizations and sanitary cord care have made newborn tetanus very rare in developed countries.
Tetanus often begins with muscle spasms in the jaw (called trismus). Someone also can have trouble swallowing and stiffness or pain in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, or back. The spasms can spread to the muscles of the belly, upper arms, and thighs. The symptoms can happen days to months after exposure to the bacteria.
Someone who has tetanus will be treated in a hospital, usually in the intensive care unit (ICU). There, they usually get antibiotics to kill bacteria and tetanus immune globulin (TIG) to neutralize the toxin already released. They’ll also get medicines to control muscle spasms and may need treatment to support vital body functions.
Yes. The two most important ways to prevent tetanus are:
Tetanus immunization is part of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis) vaccinations. Kids usually get:
Then, they should get a tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster every 10 years through adulthood.
The Tdap vaccine is also recommended for all pregnant women during the second half of each pregnancy, regardless of whether they had the vaccine before, or when it was last given.
Neonatal tetanus can be prevented by making sure that all pregnant women have had their tetanus immunizations, by delivering babies in sanitary conditions, and by proper umbilical cord care.
Post-exposure tetanus prophylaxis involves getting tetanus shots after an injury. Shots given will depend on:
Any skin wound — especially a deep puncture or a wound that may be contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva — should be cleaned and dressed right away.
If you’re not sure whether your kids have gotten their tetanus vaccinations, or if you know they’re not fully immunized, call your doctor. If it’s been more than 10 years since someone in your family got a tetanus booster, see your doctor to bring immunizations up to date.
If a puncture or other deep wound happens, clean the wound and call the doctor to ask about post-exposure tetanus prophylaxis. If your child develops lockjaw or muscle spasms — particularly after a wound — get medical care right away.
Immunizations protect kids from many dangerous diseases. Find out what vaccines your child needs to grow up healthy.
Find out how to handle minor cuts at home – and when to get medical care for a more serious injury.
Immunizations have protected millions of children from potentially deadly diseases. Learn about immunizations and find out exactly what they do – and what they don’t.
Animal bites and scratches, even minor ones, can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body, regardless of whether the animal is a family pet or a wild animal.
Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that can happen when germs enter an open wound. The easiest way to prevent it is to keep skin clean.
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that grows in a contaminated wound. Because it can be serious, it’s important to get immunized. Find out more.
How well a wound heals depends on where it is on the body and what caused it â as well as how well someone cares for the wound at home. Find out what to do in this article for teens.
Sometimes a bad cut that gets infected can lead to even worse things, like a bone infection called osteomyelitis. The easiest way to protect yourself is to practice good hygiene.
If you’re old enough to read this, you’ve probably had most of your shots. But even bigger kids may need a shot once in a while. Find out more about them in this article for kids.
If you’re afraid of shots, you’re not alone. Next time your doc asks you to roll up your sleeve, try these tips.
Most small cuts, scrapes, or abrasions heal on their own. Here are tips for teens on how to treat cuts at home – and when to get medical help.
Most cuts can be safely treated at home. But deeper cuts – or any wounds that won’t stop bleeding – need emergency medical treatment.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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