Is Tetanus Fatal? What are symptoms of Tetanus?

What is Tetanus

Tetanus is an acute, often fatal, disease caused by an exotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Tetani usually enters the body through a wound. In the presence of anaerobic (low oxygen) conditions, the spores germinate. Toxins are produced and disseminated via blood and lymphatics. Toxins act at several sites within the central nervous system, including peripheral motor end plates, spinal cord, and brain, and in the sympathetic nervous system. The typical clinical manifestations of tetanus are caused when tetanus toxin interferes with release of neurotransmitters, blocking inhibitor impulses. The incidence of tetanus is much higher in less developed countries. The most common type (about 80%) of reported tetanus is generalized tetanus. Three clinical forms of Tetanus are as follows:

  • Local (uncommon)
  • Cephalic (rare)
  • Generalized (most common)

Is Tetanus Fatal

Tetanus is an acute, often fatal, disease caused by an exotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. It is characterized by generalized rigidity and convulsive spasms of skeletal muscles. Severe tetanus-induced (tetanic) muscle spasms can interfere with your breathing, causing periods in which you can’t breathe at all. Respiratory failure is the most common cause of death. Lack of oxygen may also induce cardiac arrest and death. Pneumonia is another cause of death.

Incubation Period of Tetanus

Tetanus symptoms usually show up 4-21 days after you’ve been infected with the bacteria that cause the infection. Most commonly, symptoms start after about 10 days, but it can be as little as one day or as long as several months.In general the further the injury site is from the central nervous system, the longer is the incubation period. Shorter incubation periods are associated with a higher chance of death.

Signs and Symptoms of Tetanus

Common signs and symptoms of tetanus, in order of appearance, are:

  • Spasms and stiffness in your jaw muscles
  • Stiffness of your neck muscles
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness of your abdominal muscles
  • Painful body spasms lasting for several minutes, typically triggered by minor occurrences, such as a draft, loud noise, physical touch or light

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate

Cure for Tetanus

There’s no cure for tetanus. Treatment focuses on managing complications until the effects of the tetanus toxin resolve. Fatality is highest in individuals who haven’t been immunized and in older adults with inadequate immunization.


A vaccine can prevent tetanus. It is given as a part of routine childhood immunization. Adults should get a tetanus shot, or booster, every 10 years. If you get a bad cut, see your doctor, you may need a booster. Immediate and proper wound care can prevent tetanus infection.


  1. Antitoxin.Your doctor may give you a tetanus antitoxin, such as tetanus immune globulin. However, the antitoxin can neutralize only toxin that hasn’t yet bonded to nerve tissue.
  2. Antibiotics. Your doctor may also give you antibiotics, either orally or by injection, to fight tetanus bacteria.
  3. Vaccine. Having tetanus once doesn’t make you immune to the bacteria afterward. So you’ll need to receive a tetanus vaccine in order to prevent future tetanus infection.
  4. Sedatives. Doctors generally use powerful sedatives to control muscle spasms.
  5. Other drugs. Other medications, such as magnesium sulfate and certain beta blockers, may be used to help regulate involuntary muscle activity, such as your heartbeat and breathing. Morphine may be used for this purpose as well as sedation.