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Tetanus is an acute disease caused by certain bacteria found in soil, dust and manure. If the bacteria contaminate wounds, they can produce a toxin which causes painful muscular contractions and spasms. Tetanus is also nicknamed ‘lock jaw’ due to its tendency to cause contractions in the muscles of the jaw and neck. Abdominal rigidity is also common in older children and adults with tetanus. 


Once contaminated, symptoms typically take 10 days or longer to occur. Persons with tetanus can be treated with an antitoxin, which is generally undertaken in a hospital intensive care unit. In Australia, around 2% of tetanus cases result in death. 




  • Stiffness of your neck muscles

  • Stiffness and spasms in your jaw muscles

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Body spasms lasting a number of minutes

  • Sweating

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Fever

  • High blood pressure




Vaccination is the best prevention method. If a person has a tetanus-prone wound and has not received their full tetanus vaccination or have not had a booster dose within the previous 5 years, seek urgent medical attention. Routine vaccination before a trip is recommened to people who have not had a booster in the last 10 years.


The tetanus vaccine is available as a combined diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (whooping cough) or diphtheria-tetanus vaccine for adolescents and adults.

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