Tetanus is very rare in the UK, mainly because of the effectiveness of childhood vaccinations. It’s a serious condition that’s caused by bacteria getting into a wound, even through something as small as scrapes or tears in the skin, as well as cuts, burns, animal bites, piercings, injuries to the eye, or injecting contaminated drugs. The tetanus bacteria is commonly found in soil and manure and can survive outside the body for some time. When it enters the body, it multiplies very quickly and releases a toxin that affects the nerves. It can be a very serious condition.
Tetanus is found around the world, particularly in low income countries. Check the TravelHealthPro website to see if it is common in the country you will be visiting. If you have not had a tetanus jab for more than 10 years it is a good idea to have another vaccine before you travel.
People usually start seeing symptoms around 10 days after infection, but it could be anything between 4 and 21 days. Symptoms include:
- Lockjaw – stiffness of the jaw muscles
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Rapid heartbeat
- High Temperature
If you’ve got a deep wound, have dirt in the wound, or aren’t sure if you have been vaccinated, seek medical advice. You will probably be given a tetanus immunoglobulin injection or a dose of tetanus vaccine.
If you develop tetanus, you will need to be hospitalised – probably needing intensive care – for treatment involving antibiotics, tetanus immunoglobulin and pain relief. The majority of people who develop symptoms will recover, but this could take weeks and even months.