What is it

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is an infection spread by a bacteria (Clostridium tetani).1 Tetanus can be a serious illness if not treated right away as it can cause difficulty in breathing.1 It is fatal in 10 to 20% of people infected.2

Who is at risk

Tetanus occurs worldwide and causes disease in people of any age.3 Infants and older adults are the most at risk.3 Immunization may wane over time in the older population if they have not received regular booster shots.3 Routine activity including gardening may pose a risk if cuts or open wounds are exposed to soil.3

What are the symptoms

Symptoms may appear quickly or slowly, the time between exposure to the bacteria and becoming ill is usually 3 to 21 days.2 The duration of symptoms may range from 1 day to several months.2 Tetanus commonly presents with sudden cramping, and tightening of muscles, originating in the neck and face.2 The first muscles affected are usually in the jaw which locks shut.2 Other symptoms can include:2

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Fever and sweating
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Seizures (violent jerking or shaking of the body)

How is it spread

The bacteria lives in dirt, soil, and dust and can also be found in human and animal feces.1 The bacteria may enter your body through breaks in your skin which can happen from a scrape or scratch, or from a puncture wound caused by contaminated objects including rusty nails or dirty needles.2 The bacteria produce a toxin that affects the nerves.1

Tetanus cannot be transmitted from touching an infected object.3 It cannot be spread directly from person to person.1 There has to be a break in the skin for the bacteria to enter the body.1

How is it prevented

Best way to prevent tetanus is vaccination.1 Vaccination helps your immune system to recognize the bacteria and fight off the disease.4
For further information on the various vaccination options, please speak with your healthcare provider.

How is it treated

See your healthcare provider immediately if symptoms of tetanus develops.5 There is no cure for the infection itself.4 Hospitals treatment usually involves wound care, antitoxin medication, tetanus vaccination and/or sedative medications to control muscle spasms.4


  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Tetanus. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/tetanus-tetanos-eng.php
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. Tetanus Risks. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/tetanus-tetanos/risks-risques-eng.php
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada. Tetanus Causes. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/tetanus-tetanos/causes-eng.php
  4. Public Health Agency of Canada. Tetanus Treatment. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/tetanus-tetanos/treatment-traitement-eng.php
  5. Public Health Agency of Canada. Tetanus Symptoms. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/tetanus-tetanos/symptoms-symptomes-eng.php