Childhood Diseases Rare Tetanus

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a disease caused by the bacteria, Clostridium tetani. These bacteria are found in soil, manure and dirt, and can be introduced to the body through deep wounds. Vaccination is the best prevention against the disease and tetanus side effects. Because of the widespread use of the tetanus vaccine, there are fewer than 50 cases of tetanus reported in the United States each year.

Symptoms of Tetanus

Tetanus affects the body’s muscles and nerves. In terms of symptoms, tetanus may show itself in different ways. Tetanus may first cause spasms in the face or jaw, as the toxin begins to spread through the body. Other muscles, such as those in the chest, abdomen and back, may be affected.

These spasms lead to stiffness that affects the same areas of the body, but particularly the jaw area. This is why tetanus is often called lockjaw. This stiffness in the neck and jaw may lead to difficulty swallowing.

Finally, severe spasms can affect muscles that control the respiratory process, making it difficult to breathe. You may also notice fever and muscular irritability.

Serious tetanus side effects do exist. People with tetanus may experience bone fractures or abnormal heart rhythm. Brain damage can occur, due to lack of oxygen caused by seizures and spasms. Death occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of cases, mostly in older adults.

Symptoms of Tetanus - Lockjaw

Prevention Through Tetanus Shots

Tetanus shots are the best way to prevent getting the infection. Children usually receive five doses of the vaccine. Doctors will administer tetanus shots at the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years.

The fifth dose is considered a tetanus booster and is given again between the ages of 11 and 12. The tetanus booster should be received every ten years thereafter, even through adulthood.

Precautions should be taken in the event of any deep wound. Be sure to clean the wound thoroughly and bandage it. See a doctor if you are unsure of you or your child’s tetanus vaccine history. You may be able to receive a tetanus booster after a wound to prevent the disease. Your doctor will decide on the best course of action.

Neonatal tetanus can occur in babies who are born in unsanitary conditions. To prevent this, mothers should be certain they are up to date on tetanus vaccinations and that they deliver their baby in a sanitary environment by trained professionals.

Treatment of Tetanus

A child who develops tetanus will be hospitalized for treatment. Medications can be given to combat the disease and include:

  • Antibiotics, orally or through injection
  • Antitoxins such as tetanus immune globulin (TIG)
  • Sedatives to calm the patient and relax the muscles
  • Vaccine to prevent future infection.

Some patients may need to be placed on a ventilator to assist breathing. Recovery from tetanus can be a long, arduous process.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (2009). Tetanus disease in-short (lockjaw). Retrieved January 25, 2010, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site:

Hirsch, L. (2007). Infections: Tetanus. Retrieved January 25, 2010, from the Kids Health Web site:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Tetanus. Retrieved January 26, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: