Tetanus disease is defined as tightening and convulsing of the muscles that causes an immense amount of pain. It is different than a majority of the other vaccine preventable illnesses because the disease is transferred by a bacteria and not a virus. The bacteria is found in soil, dust and manure. The disease can be transmitted if it enters through a wound. The vaccine is recommended in a series of four shots for infants and children from 16-5-18 months up to six years old with a booster shot every 10 years.


Tetanus was first discovered in 1884 by Carle and Rattone. They were able to produce the bacterium, Clostridium tetani, in an animal from the pus from a fatal human case. In 1897, Nocard discovered the use of tetanus as a treatment and prophylaxis during World War 1. In 1924, tetanus toxoid was produced. Immunizations were administrated and the tetanus cases dropped from 70 in WWI to 12 in WWII.


The incubation period for tetanus can range between 2 to 21 days. The average length in 8 days, but is affected by how far the injury site is from the central nervous system. In neonatal tetanus, the average incubation period is 7 days, but can range from 4-14 days after the child is born.

Once affected, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Jaw cramping
  • Sudden, involuntary muscle tightening
  • Painful muscle stiffness
  • Seizures
  • Fevers and swears
  • High blood pressure and pulse rate



The bacteria that causes tetanus is everywhere, primarily in dust, soil, and manure. It enters the body through wounds through broken skin or objects carrying the bacteria. It is not transmitted from one person to another.

The more common ways of transferring tetanus include:

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, feces, or spit
  • Wounds that are caused from punctured skin, typically with a nail or needle
  • Burns

Some rare cases have been found in superficial wounds, insect bites, and surgical procedures.


The tetanus toxin binds to your nerve endings. A complete recovery involves creating new nerve endings before the tetanus infection is cured.

Most of complications of tetanus revolve around the involuntary muscle spasms. The vocal cord and contract and restrict speaking. Bone fractures are common, especially in the spine. Other complications involve breathing difficulty, including pneumonia. Both of the breathing complications and severe bone fractures can result in death.

The population most susceptible to gain an infection of those never vaccinated and the older population who never received a boost vaccine. The risk of a fatality increases with age.


  • The best prevention for tetanus is a vaccine, such as DTaP, as well as keeping up with booster vaccinations every ten years.
  • Tetanus in not common in the United States. The incidence rate is approximately 40 people in the US. Incidence in higher in developing countries where access to health care and vaccines is limited.
  • Between the years of 1996 through 2009, an average of 29 cases were reported for each year. Those primarily affected never received the vaccine.
  • From 1992 through 2000, there were 13 cases on neonatal tetanus cases within the US for children under the age of 15. 11 out of the 13 cases were unvaccinated due to religious reasons.
  • 82% of children aged 19-35 months in the US were vaccinated in 2002.
  • The incidence of tetanus among diabetics was three times more likely than a non-diabetic.
  • In developing countries, neonatal tetanus in still an ongoing public health problem. In 2008, around 59,000 newborns died worldwide.