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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Tetanus 

Introduction

Tetanus is a serious disease of the central nervous system that is caused by bacteria that is found in soil. The disease is spread through open cuts and wounds that have been contaminated with infected soil.

Tetanus is found throughout the world.

The Illness

Tetanus toxin spreads through the bloodstream and can cause serious damage to the nervous system. Early symptoms of the disease include stiffness of the jaw muscles (lockjaw), difficulties swallowing and muscle spasms. The disease can spread to affect more muscles in the body including the respiratory muscles. This can cause difficulties with breathing and death can occur if untreated.

Treatment

Treatment for tetanus usually involves giving immunoglobulin and antibiotics. Those infected will often require intensive care until the effects of the disease wear off.  

Recommendations for travellers

A combination vaccine called Revaxis is available to protect adults against diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Tetanus is included in the UK as part of the national schedule where 5 doses are given in childhood including a booster dose for teenagers. Travellers should ensure that they have had a full primary course of vaccine and receive a booster every 10 years if they are travelling to an area where diphtheria, tetanus or polio are considered high risk and where access to post exposure treatment may be difficult.

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