Travel Health Service Tetanus
Travel related diseases


What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is an infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which produces toxins that attack the nervous system. The incubation period is 3-21 days. The patient usually presents with painful muscular contractions, primarily over the jaws and neck; the trunk is sometimes affected. In severe cases, infected persons may not be able to swallow or open his/her mouth. When tetanus affects muscles that help to breathe, the patient can die very quickly.

How does it spread?

The bacteria are found in soil and animal faeces. They get into the body through a break in the skin, such as a cut, puncture or sore. Infection can also occur after a burn or animal bite. Tetanus does not spread from one person to another.

How can you prevent it?

Travellers are advised to complete the vaccination before travelling as Tetanus can be completely preventable by active tetanus immunization. Generally, it provides protection for ten years. Consult your family physician if there is doubt over the details of immunization program and to check whether the vaccination has been completed.

If injury is sustained during travel, travellers should clean the wound with antiseptics and cover the wound properly. If necessary, consult a physician.

How can it be treated?

Affected persons should be hospitalised for treatment including tetanus immunoglobulin, antibiotics and thorough wound treatment. In severe cases, muscle relaxants, tracheostomy and mechanical ventilation to assist breathing may be required. Active immunisation should be started concurrently with therapy if there is incomplete, uncertain or no history of immunisation.