Tetanus is a condition caused by bacteria, commonly found in soil and the manure of animals, getting into a wound (e.g., burns, bites, cuts and scrapes). It cannot be spread from person to person. Once in the body, the bacteria can release toxins that affect the nervous system, resulting in muscle spasms and stiffness.
After infection, symptoms of tetanus will begin to show between 4 and 21 days. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen.
The main symptoms include:
- muscle spasms that affect swallowing and breathing
- a high temperature (38C or above)
- increased heartbeat
If you have not displayed any symptoms, but there is a potential risk of tetanus, a thorough cleaning of your wound and an injection of tetanus immunoglobulin or tetanus vaccine (if you haven’t been vaccinated) will be administered. Tetanus immunoglobulin is a medication that provides instant, short-term protection that contains the necessary antibodies to fight the tetanus bacteria.
If you do display symptoms of tetanus, it is likely that you will be admitted to the ICU (intensive care unit). Treatments within the ICU will include antibiotics, tetanus immunoglobulin and medication to alleviate muscle spasms and stiffness. Although it can take up to several months, a full recovery is often made.
Tetanus vaccinations have proven to be extremely successful due to their incorporation in the NHS childhood vaccination programme. Most people who do contract tetanus either were not vaccinated or did not complete their entire course of vaccination.
However, tetanus is found throughout the world. Full vaccination should be undertaken before travelling abroad, especially to those areas with limited medical facilities. If you were vaccinated over 10 years ago it is advisable to get a booster. In ideal circumstances, vaccination should be given two weeks before your departure, but it can be given up to a day before you leave.
During your consultation with an Ahmeys travel health practitioner, you will undertake a travel risk assessment based on your itinerary and travel plans. Our expert practitioners are also well placed to discuss and assess the risks versus the benefits of vaccination of those who are pregnant or who suffer from certain allergies. Our aim is for you to leave your consultation feeling confident and fully informed.