Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Children's Vaccines Health Center

Font Size

Understanding Tetanus -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Tetanus?

Tetanus can start from an injury such as a scratch, a cut or a bite from an animal or another person. The organism particularly lives in soil or fecal matter. It may take anywhere between one day to three weeks for symptoms to develop. Some affected people may experience only pain and tingling at the wound site and some spasms in muscles near the injury site to start with. As things progress, there can be stiffness of the jaw (called lockjaw) and neck muscles, irritability, and difficulty swallowing. There may be spasms in the facial muscles causing a strained smile appearance called risus sardonicus. The swallowing muscles can be affected causing food to stick or come back. If muscle spasms develop early -- within five days -- the chances of recovery are poor.

It is seldom possible to find either the bacterium or the toxin in a suspected tetanus patient, so diagnosis can be made only on the basis of clinical observations combined with an individual’s history of tetanus immunization.

Recommended Related to Children's Vaccines

Preteen and Teen Immunizations

With all the issues that come with raising an adolescent, it can be easy for parents to lose track of recommended preteen and teen immunization boosters. Fortunately, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (AICP) has recently updated its recommendations and immunization schedule for children 0-18 years old. The most current recommendations for preteen and teen immunizations include: Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) Tdap vaccine is usually administered...

Read the Preteen and Teen Immunizations article > >

What Are the Treatments for Tetanus?

If tetanus does develop, seek hospital treatment immediately. This includes wound care, a course of antibiotics, and an injection of tetanus antitoxin. You may receive medications such as chlorpromazine or diazepam to control muscle spasms, or a short-acting barbiturate for sedation. You may require the aid of an artificial respirator or other life-support measures during the several weeks needed for the disease to run its course.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD on March 12, 2014

Today on WebMD

Baby getting vaccinated
Vaccines and Autism
syringes and graph illustration
What Shots Does Your Child Need?
 
baby getting a vaccine
Vaccine Guide for Parents
nurse holding syringe in front of girl
HPV Vaccine
 

What To Know About The HPV Vaccine
Article
24 Kid Illnesses Parents Should Know
Slideshow
 
Nausea and Vomiting Remedies Slideshow
Article
Managing Immunization Schedules For Kids
Video
 

Doctor administering vaccine to toddler
Video
gloved hand holding syringe
Article
 
infant receiving injection
Tool
pills
Quiz
 

WebMD Special Sections