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What is it and how is it spread?

Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacterium which is found in soil and some animal faeces. The infection occurs when bacteria are introduced into a wound, where they produce a harmful toxin (poison). Tetanus is a serious disease that needs intensive medical support.1

Who is at risk?

The tetanus bacterium occurs worldwide, although the disease is more common in less developed countries where vaccination rates may be lower.1

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms of tetanus can include stiffness of the jaw (also known as lockjaw), muscle spasms and having trouble swallowing. The disease can then spread through the body to affect other muscles, including those involved in breathing, causing breathing difficulties.2 Other symptoms include a stiff neck, arching of the back and abnormal breathing.1

How can it be prevented?

Tetanus is preventable by vaccination, and tetanus containing vaccines are used in the NHS routine vaccination schedule. It is important to check that you are up to date with your primary immunisations before you travel.1

You should clean all wounds thoroughly and seek medical attention if there is any concern about tetanus infection.1

How is it diagnosed and how can it be treated?

Tetanus is diagnosed by its characteristic symptoms. People infected with tetanus may require intensive care and treatment with antibiotics until the effects of the disease eventually wear off.2

Where can I get further information?

If you have any questions or concerns about exposure to tetanus, please speak to your doctor or a travel health practitioner for more information.

Make sure you contact your GP or travel health practitioner in plenty of time before you travel to discuss the ways you can help to keep yourself healthy whilst away. You should try and contact them at least 4–6 weeks before your trip.

After your trip, you should contact your GP if you develop a fever or notice any other unusual symptoms.

  1. Travel Health Pro. Tetanus. Available at: Accessed August 2017.
  2. Fit For Travel. Tetanus. Available at: Accessed August 2017.

Date of preparation: November 2017