Tetanus is commonly known as the “lockjaw”, it is a serious but rare condition caused by bacteria getting into a wound. The bacteria will invade the nervous system, and cause painful muscle contractions in the jaw and the muscles of the neck.
The condition can be fatal if left untreated, but the tetanus vaccine and improvements in treatment mean deaths from tetanus are now very rare. However, it is still common in developing countries.
Most cases occur in people who were never vaccinated against the condition or those who are no updated with their vaccines.
How you get tetanus
Tetanus is caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. These bacteria live in the soil and feces, and can live for a very long time outside the body.
The bacteria can cause tetanus if they get into the body through:
- cuts and scrapes
- tears or splits in the skin
- animal bites
- body piercings, tattoos and injections
- eye injuries
- injection of contaminated drugs
If they enter the body through a wound, the bacteria can quickly multiply and release a toxin that affects the nerves, causing symptoms such as muscle stiffness and spasms.
Tetanus cannot be spread from person to person.