Tetanus is a disease of the nervous system that is caused by bacteria. It may occur following elective surgery, burns, deep puncture wounds, crush wounds, ear infections, dental infections, animal bites, abortion, or pregnancy. The bacteria that cause tetanus are found primarily in the soil and intestinal tracts of animals and humans. Any break in the skin provides an entranceway for tetanus to enter the body. Early symptoms of tetanus are lockjaw, stiffness in the neck and abdomen, and difficulty swallowing. Later symptoms are fever, elevated blood pressure, and severe muscle spasms. Death is a potential complication of tetanus, which occurs in about 11f the cases, especially in people over age 60.

Tetanus does not pass from person to person. It is the only vaccine-preventable disease that is infectious, but not contagious. Almost all reported cases of tetanus are in people who have either never been vaccinated, or who completed a primary series, but have not had a booster in the preceding 10 years.

Prevention is the key. As previously mentioned, tetanus is a vaccine preventable disease. Vaccination is included in routine child immunizations and is given at 2, 4, 6, and 12-15 months of age. Booster doses are given at 4-6 years of age, before entering school, then at 11-12 years of age, if it has been 5 years since their last dose of tetanus toxoid. Every 10 years thereafter, a booster is required. A booster may be given sooner if injury occurs and it is close to the time for another booster.

If you have questions regarding your need for tetanus vaccination, please contact Winneshiek County Public Health at 563-382-4662.