Tetanus or as known in layman terms ‘Lock-Jaw’ is an acute infectious disease caused due to the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The term ‘tetanus’ is derived from the ancient Greek words ‘tetanos or teinein’, which means ‘rigid and stretched’, and it literally describes the condition of the muscles afflicted by the toxin produced by Clostridium spore.

The bacteria can stay alive for many years usually in the form of spores and are commonly found in the soil, dust, and manure. The bacteria usually enter the body through puncture wounds, from piercings, tattoos, injections or injury caused by eroded nails, barbed wires, splinters, or even insect bites. It can also gain access due to burns, any break in the skin, injuries due to dead tissue, contamination of wounds due to dirt, faeces or saliva or dental infections like cavities. These spores after entering the body become activated and develop into gram-positive bacteria that replicate and produce a very powerful toxin known as tetanospasmin in the blood that interferes with the normal muscle contractions causing painful muscle spasms. Also Read: Learn How To Manage Sudden, Painful Muscle Spasms

tetanus infection

Although any person can get this infection, it is most commonly witnessed in newborns and pregnant women who have not been properly immunised by the tetanus vaccine. The type of tetanus during pregnancy is called maternal tetanus whereas the one which happens to an infant within 28 days of birth is called neonatal tetanus. Neonatal tetanus typically happens when non-sterile instruments contaminated by the tetanus bacterium are used during the C-section or used to cut the umbilical cord. Even unwashed hands can increase the risk of infection in a new-born. The risk of tetanus is also there in adolescent and adult males who endure circumcision due to weakening immunity.


The usual signs and symptoms of the tetanus infection can show anytime from a few days to weeks once the bacterium enters the body. The usual incubation period is 10 to 12 days and is characterized by:

  • Spasms or stiffness in your jaw muscles (i.e. lockjaw)
  • Muscle spasms often in the neck, back, abdomen and extremities
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Sore throat
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Elevated blood pressure

In case of neonatal tetanus:

  • Inability to be breastfed
  • Excessive crying

Diagnosis And Treatment

The doctor usually diagnoses this infection by a thorough physical check-up of the muscle spasms, aches and knowing about the patient’s past medical history.

There is no specific treatment or cure for the tetanus infection. The only way to handle this is to take care of the wound, provide medications like anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants and supportive care to ease the symptoms. The medications mostly involve tetanus vaccines, antibiotics, antitoxins, and other sedatives. Also Read: Immunisation Protects Your Child & Family! Get Up-to-Date On Vaccinations NOW!

Apart from this, the doctor may ask to take care of the wound by regular cleaning and dressing, to prevent the growth of tetanus spores and remove dust, dirt, dead tissues and foreign objects.

In case of acute infection, where the tetanus wound is very large, the doctor may even surgically remove the infected damaged part to prevent further infection and contamination.