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Tetanus

Learn more about the condition

Whether you’re off on your holidays or checking up on boosters, our guide to vaccinations has got you covered. Here we explain a little more about tetanus; how you can get it, how to spot the symptoms and how to help protect yourself while travelling. 

What is tetanus and how do you catch it?

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

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

  • Cuts, puncture wounds and scratches
  • Burns
  • Insect bites
  • Piercings, tattoos and injections
  • Eye injuries
  • The umbilical cord during a non-sterile delivery of a baby

Signs and symptoms 

Tetanus symptoms usually start around 10 days after infection. They include:

  • A high, feverish temperature 
  • Stiffness in the jaw and neck, followed by the stomach and the rest of the body
  • Severe muscle spasms that can affect breathing and swallowing 
  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat

If you think you have symptoms of tetanus, treat it as a medical emergency and consult your GP straight away. If you develop severe muscle stiffness or spasms go immediately to your nearest accident and emergency department. Always seek medical advice if you are concerned about a wound, or if you have a wound and are unsure if you’re fully vaccinated.

Treatment

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

Prevention

The best way to protect against tetanus is the tetanus vaccine. 

Vaccination

Most people have a series of tetanus injections and boosters during childhood but it’s possible (and sometimes necessary) to get them as an adult too. The vaccine is administered in five doses during childhood.

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, you're recommended to be vaccinated beforehand. 

Our service

For a free risk assessment, expert 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.