Thanks to immunization, tetanus infection in Canada is very rare.

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is a serious infection caused by bacteria. Although the germ that causes tetanus is common in dust, soil and manure, tetanus infection is very rare in Canada because almost everyone has been vaccinated against it. However, some people are still at risk of infection because they are not immunized or are inadequately immunized (for example, their vaccinations are not up-to-date).

Tetanus is a reportable disease in Ontario.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Symptoms can include:

  • stiffness in the jaw and neck, followed by stiffening of the muscles in the arms, legs, and stomach
  • difficulty swallowing
  • painful muscle contractions or spasms—muscle spasms can be so intense that bones can break

Tetanus can lead to complications such as:

  • breathing problems
  • lung infections
  • coma
  • death

You should see a health care provider immediately if you have symptoms of tetanus.

How is tetanus spread?

Infection can occur when tetanus bacteria that are usually found in dust, soil, and manure enter the body through broken skin, usually a cut or puncture wound caused by contaminated objects.

Certain breaks in the skin are more likely to get infected with tetanus bacteria, for example:

  • wounds contaminated with dirt or saliva
  • wounds caused by items that puncture the skin like a nail or needle
  • burns
  • crushing injuries
  • injuries that involve dead skin (such as burns, frostbite, gangrene, or crush injuries)

Tetanus can’t be spread from person to person.

It can take from 3 days to 3 weeks for a person to start showing symptoms after getting infected.

How is tetanus treated?

Tetanus is a medical emergency that requires hospitalization and immediate treatments with a variety of medications to stop the infection and control muscle spasms and pain.

Depending on how severe the infection is, you may also need a machine to help you breathe.

How is tetanus prevented?

A vaccine is available that protects against tetanus. It is routinely given starting in early childhood and continues to be given every 10 years throughout adulthood for long-term protection.

Provincial law states that all children going to school in Ontario must be vaccinated against tetanus unless they are excused for medical or philosophical reasons.