Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Often called lockjaw, tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes painful muscle spasms and can lead to death. The tetanus vaccine has made tetanus a preventable disease. Thanks to its widespread use, lockjaw has become very rare in the U.S. Even so, many adults in the U.S. need to be vaccinated against tetanus because there is no cure and 10% to 20% of victims will die.

You cannot get tetanus from another person. You can get it through a cut or other wound. Tetanus bacteria are commonly present in soil, dust, and manure. The tetanus bacteria can infect a person even through a tiny scratch. But you are more likely to get tetanus through deep punctures from wounds created by nails or knives. The bacteria travel via blood or nerves to the central nervous system.

Did You Know?

WebMD Logo

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.

Health Insurance Center

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Tetanus symptoms result from a toxin produced by tetanus bacteria. Symptoms often begin around a week after infection. But this may range from three days to three weeks or even longer. The most common symptom is a stiff jaw, which can become "locked." This is how the disease came to be called lockjaw.

Symptoms of tetanus may include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle stiffness, starting in the jaw, then the neck and the arms, legs, or abdomen
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Sweating and fever
  • Palpitations and high blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms in the face, causing a strange-looking steady smile or grin

If not treated, tetanus can cause death from suffocation.

How and when should you receive the tetanus vaccine?

You normally receive tetanus shots in the deltoid ( shoulder) muscle. If you did not receive a tetanus vaccine as a child, you should start with a three-dose primary series with the first dose being a three-in-one combination called Tdap that protects against tetanus, diphtheria ( Td) and pertussis ( whooping cough). The other two doses are a dual vaccine (Td) cover tetanus and diphtheria. You receive these vaccines over a period of seven to 12 months. Vaccination against pertussis is especially important for those in direct contact with young infants or patients.

After receiving the primary series, get a Td booster every 10 years.

Preventable Diseases: Do you Know the Stakes?

Take this quiz and find out how to protect yourself from preventable diseases.
Take Quiz

Adult Vaccines: Protect Against Tetanus & More

How vaccines protect you from tetanus, hepatitis, and more diseases.
View slideshow

WebMD Video Series

Click here to wach video: What's Your Adult Vaccine IQ?

Test your health smart IQ on these myths and facts about adult vaccines.

Vaccination Poll

Which preventable illness concerns you most?

View Results