Ready to explore? Learn more about avoiding tetanus while travelling

Before heading off on your travels, it’s important to be prepared. Here we learn about tetanus, the vaccinations and treatments available.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a rare but toxic disease caused by bacterial spores that are commonly found in soil, as well as animal poo. If these spores (also called clostridium tetani) enter the blood stream they multiply rapidly, releasing a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system. This can cause painful and serious symptoms. The consequences can be fatal, especially for new-born babies.

How can you catch tetanus?

Tetanus can’t be passed from human to human, but it can enter the body through:

• Cuts, wounds and scratches

• Burns

• Insect bites

• Piercings

• Tattoos

• Injections

• Eye injuries

• The umbilical cord if the delivery of a baby isn’t sterile

Signs & symptoms of tetanus

Tetanus symptoms usually start around four to 21 days after being infected. In most cases, people get symptoms after about ten days.

The symptoms of tetanus can include:

• Stiffness in the jaw (lockjaw) and neck which can make opening your mouth difficult

• Painful muscle spasms which can happen in your back, tummy, arms, hands, legs and feet

• Difficulty breathing

• Problems with swallowing

• A fever

• Sweating

• Having a fast heartbeat

• Fits (seizures)

If you think you have symptoms of tetanus, this needs to be treated as a medical emergency.

You should ask for an urgent GP appointment or call NHS 111 if you’ve been bitten or you have a wound or scratch and:

• You haven’t been fully vaccinated against tetanus

• You aren’t sure if you’ve been fully vaccinated against tetanus

• You’ve tried to clean your wound but there’s still dirt or soil in it

• Your wound is swollen or hot

• Your wound is painful, red or darker than the skin around it

• You have a fever

• You feel hot and shivery

Tetanus is rare but it’s important to get your wound checked if it could get infected.

You need to call 999 or go to A&E if you’ve been bitten or you have a wound or scratch and:

• Your wound is large or deep

• You have a stiff jaw

• You have painful muscle spasms

• You have muscle stiffness

• You’re finding it difficult to breathe

• You have a fast heartbeat

• You’ve had a fit (seizure)

Treating tetanus

If left untreated, tetanus symptoms can get worse over time and can also take months to go away. Tetanus is very rare – but if you do require treatment the doctor will clean your wounds and give you an injection of tetanus immunoglobulin to help kill the tetanus bacteria.

You’ll also need to go to hospital to receive treatments. These could range from antibiotics to specialist medication for muscle spasms and stiffness. People who develop tetanus usually recover completely but it can take several weeks.

Preventing tetanus

The best way to protect against tetanus is to make sure that you’ve been fully vaccinated.


Most people have a series of tetanus injections and boosters during childhood as part of the routine NHS vaccination schedule, but it’s possible (and sometimes necessary) to get them as an adult too.

The vaccination is administered in five doses during childhood:

• Eight, 12 and 16 weeks – as part of the six-in-one vaccine

• Three years and four months – as part of the four-in-one pre-school booster

• 14 years – as part of the three-in-one teenage booster

If you aren’t sure which vaccinations you or your child has had, you can check with your GP surgery.

It’s important to make sure that you’re up to date with your vaccinations before travelling.

You might be advised to get the tetanus vaccination before travelling if:

• You haven’t been fully vaccinated

• You’re going to an area where medical help might be difficult to get quickly

• Your last dose of the tetanus vaccination was more than 10 years ago

How long does the tetanus vaccination last?

Five doses of tetanus vaccine are considered to be enough to be protected for life, but precautions need to be taken when travelling abroad as tetanus is found worldwide.

If you’ve never had a tetanus jab before, or your latest vaccination was over 10 years ago and you’re travelling, it’s recommended to get vaccinated.

Our service

For specialist health advice and vaccinations, book an appointment online with Boots Travel Vaccinations and Health Advice Service*. Ideally, this should be six to eight weeks before departure, but it’s never too late to seek advice if you're leaving sooner.

Travel vaccination advice

1. Book an appointment

Six to eight weeks before you travel you will need to have your travel health appointment to assess what vaccinations you need.

2. Attend a personalised risk assessment23

During the 40 minute travel health appointment our specially-trained pharmacist will advise on any vaccinations and antimalarials you need for your travelling.

3. Get any vaccinations & antimalarials you may need*

You'll also be given additional personalised advice to help you stay healthy on your trip

*Available in around 200 pharmacies. For people aged two and over. Eligibility criteria apply. Subject to availability. Charges apply.