Tetanus is a serious infection which is caused when tetanus bacteria enter a cut or a wound. It affects the nerves and causes stiffness and spasms of the muscles, for example lockjaw.
Recommendations for travellers
There are vaccines that protect you from tetanus.
- Children in the UK normally receive tetanus vaccines as part of the childhood UK vaccination schedule.
- Everyone should receive a minimum of 5 doses of a tetanus-containing vaccine to have good long-term protection. This should be documented in your medical notes held by your General Practitioner.
- You can receive booster doses of tetanus-containing vaccine if you have not had all 5 doses.
Tetanus is present in the environment throughout the world. Before travelling abroad, you should:
- be aware of how you get tetanus
- check if you have had 5 doses of a tetanus-containing vaccine and consider if you may need further doses to ensure you are fully protected
- check on the fitfortravel country pages to see if an additional booster dose is recommended for the country you are visiting and type of travel you are intending
- know when to seek medical advice if you suffer a tetanus-prone injury whilst abroad
REVAXIS is the vaccine used in the UK to protect adults against tetanus. The vaccine is a combination vaccine which is also used to protect against diphtheria and polio.
Infanrix hexa, Vaxelis, Boostrix-IPV, REPEVAX and REVAXIS are the vaccines used in the UK to protect children against tetanus. The vaccine used depends on the child’s age, but they are all combination vaccines which also protect against other diseases.
- you can find out more information about when these vaccines are recommended in the UK vaccination schedule page
Overview of Disease
Tetanus is a serious disease that is caused by bacteria found in soil entering the body through a cut or a wound. The bacteria can get in your body through:
- cuts and grazes, particularly those caused by contaminated or rusty objects
- certain animal bites (such as farm animals)
- medical procedures such as body piercing, tattoos and injections if the equipment isn’t clean
- injecting contaminated drugs
Tetanus is found throughout the world. The bacteria can survive for a long time outside of the body and are commonly found in soil, manure of animals such as cows and horses, and on the surfaces of rusty tools such as nails, needles, and barbed wire.
Once tetanus bacteria enter your body, they can quickly multiply and release a toxin that spreads through the blood stream and affects the nerves. The toxin causes serious damage to your bodies nerves.
Symptoms of tetanus usually begin around 10 days after becoming infected but may appear from between 4 to 21 days after infection.
Symptoms of tetanus include:
- stiffness of the jaw muscles, making it difficult to open your mouth (lockjaw)
- difficulties in swallowing
- painful muscle spasms, often in the back, abdomen, legs or arms
- sore head
- high temperature (fever) and sweating
- fast heart rate and / or changes in blood pressure
If the disease affects the chest muscles, it can cause difficulties with breathing which can become fatal if untreated.
You should always seek medical advice if you are concerned about a cut or a graze, particularly if:
- the wound is deep
- there appears to be dirt inside the wound
- you haven’t been fully vaccinated against tetanus, or you’re unsure if you have
A doctor will assess and clean your wound, and determine if you need further treatment which may include:
- further wound care
- tetanus vaccine
- a specialised medicine that can immediately protect you against tetanus (immunoglobulin)
People with tetanus often need to be admitted to hospital for observation and treatment, particularly if their breathing is affected.