Tetanus is caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. These bacteria are commonly found in soil and the manure (poo) of animals such as horses and cows.
Tetanus bacteria enter your body through broken skin or wounds, eg, cuts or grazes. In Aotearoa New Zealand, most cases of tetanus are the result of a minor injury.
Some common ways tetanus gets into your body are through:
- wounds that have been contaminated with dirt, soil or manure (poo)
- wounds that have foreign objects in them, eg, wood splinters or nails
- crush injuries
- open fractures where the skin is broken and the bone is exposed
- wounds with dead tissue,
Once in your body, the bacteria multiply and release a toxin that affects the nerves, causing symptoms such as muscle stiffness and spasms. Read more about tetanus symptoms below.
Tetanus can't be spread from person to person.
The video below describes tetanus, its complications and the importance of getting your vaccinations at the right times. This video may take a few moments to load.
(The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ, 2017)