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did you know?

Tetanus is not spread from person to person.

Tetanus - What is it?

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. Toxins (poisonous substances) made by the bacteria, enters though a break in the skin (or wound) and affects the nervous system causing painful muscle spasms and breathing problems.

Tetanus - What are the symptoms?

Symptoms generally occur between 3 and 21 days after infection. Most cases occur within 10 days of injury (skin break or wound). Generally, symptoms will appear early after infection if the wound has been heavily contaminated with the bacteria.

Early signs and symptoms include an inability to open the mouth (lockjaw), difficulty swallowing, stiffness or pain in the neck, shoulder and back muscles. Other symptoms can include painful muscle spasms, difficulty breathing and difficulty talking.

Complications of tetanus include pneumonia (lung infection), bone fractures and muscle rupture. Death can result from respiratory failure (failure to breathe), hypertension (high blood pressure), hypotension (low blood pressure) or heart problems.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following a tetanus infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about tetanus.

Tetanus - How is it spread?

The tetanus bacteria live in manured soil, particularly horse manure. Infection happens when the bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin (or wound).

Examples of ’tetanus-prone’ wounds are:

  • compound fractures (where the broken bone pierces the skin)
  • animal bites
  • any type of wound (such as from a rusty nail or rose thorn)
  • wounds contaminated with soil, dust, horse manure or wood splinters
  • burns
Tetanus - Who is at risk?

In Australia, tetanus occurs mostly in adults who have not been immunised or were immunised a long time ago, however anyone who has not been immunised against tetanus is at risk of infection, in particular:

  • people who work with soil, horses, or in dusty environments
  • travellers to countries where health services are difficult to access
  • people with a high-risk of 'tetanus-prone' wounds

Other people may be at risk of tetanus infection. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

Tetanus - Vaccination

Tetanus vaccination is recommended and provided free for children as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). It is usually given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, followed by a booster at 4 years of age and another at 10 to 15 years of age.

All adults aged 50 years or older that have not received a booster dose in the previous 10 years should receive a tetanus booster dose.

Adults who suffer a tetanus-prone wound should receive a tetanus booster vaccination if they have not had a booster within the last 5 years.

Tetanus booster vaccination is also recommended for travellers to countries where health services are difficult to access, if they have not received a tetanus containing vaccine in the last 10 years (or 5 years for travel that is considered high risk).

If you are planning on becoming pregnant, please discuss with your doctor whether vaccination against tetanus is appropriate for you.

It is important to complete the recommended course of vaccinations to help protect against tetanus and help maintain immunity.

In Australia, vaccination against tetanus is provided in combination vaccines that also help to protect against other diseases.

Tetanus - Treatment

Treatment for tetanus includes antitoxin (to neutralise as much tetanus toxin as possible) and antibiotics. Depending on the severity of infection, hospitalisation may be required.

For information about tetanus immunisation in your area, contact your State or Territory Health Department or doctor.


Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare professional.




AUS/VAC/0039/15. Date of approval: April 2015.