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Tetanus comes from bacteria

Tetanus comes from bacteria
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2-minute read

Tetanus is a serious infection that causes painful muscle contractions, particularly of the neck and jaw. It is often fatal. Because of immunisation, few people now get tetanus in Australia. Everybody should be vaccinated.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus affects the nerves in your brain and spinal cord, which leads to painful muscle spasms throughout your body. It is sometimes referred to as ‘lock jaw’, because it typically causes spasms of the jaw making it close firmly (lock).

Tetanus causes

Tetanus is caused by infection with a bacterium called Clostridium tetani (C. tetani). The bacteria produce a toxin (or poison), which attacks your nervous system leading to muscle spam.

C. tetani lives mainly in soil, dust and manure, but can be found anywhere. You can become infected if the bacterium enters your bloodstream through an open wound. Even something as trivial as a prick from a rose thorn can become infected, but some wounds are more likely to become infected, such as:

  • compound fractures, in which there is a wound over a broken bone
  • deep wounds
  • wounds containing foreign bodies (such as wood splinters)
  • pus-filled wounds
  • extensive tissue damage (such as burns)
  • any wound contaminated with soil, dust or manure.

You cannot catch C. tetani or tetanus itself from other people.

Tetanus symptoms

After infection, symptoms usually take between three and 21 days to show. Symptoms include:

Tetanus is often fatal.

Tetanus vaccine

Tetanus is preventable. The tetanus vaccine is given as part of routine childhood immunisation under the National Immunisation Program. You may need a booster if you are going travelling. After the complete course of tetanus vaccinations, another booster is usually recommended for people over 50.

If you’re unsure whether your tetanus vaccination is up to date, see your doctor. It’s never too late.

Last reviewed: April 2017

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Top results


Tetanus is an acute, often fatal, disease caused by a toxin (poison) produced by bacteria.

Read more on WA Health website


Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. These bacteria are commonly found in the environment within soil, dust and manure. If bacteria contaminate wounds, they produce the toxin which causes tetanus symptoms.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Tetanus in Australia

Tetanus is an acute, sometimes fatal bacterial disease caused by toxins produced by Clostridium tetani.

Read more on AIHW – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website

Kids' Health - Topics - Tetanus

Tetanus, or 'lock-jaw' as it is sometimes called, is a very serious illness

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A guide to preventing tetanus in children.

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Tetanus | Australian Government Department of Health

Tetanus is a life-threatening disease that causes severe muscle spasms and sometimes death. Vaccination is the best protection against tetanus.

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Tetanus (lockjaw) information | myVMC

Tetanus is a vaccine-preventable disease caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, found in soil. It affects the nervous system causing lockjaw.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Tetanus - Better Health Channel

Tetanus is a life-threatening disease and immunisation is the best way to reduce your risk.

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Tetanus - including symptoms, treatment and prevention :: SA Health

A disease of the nervous system caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani.

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