Tetanus is a serious, life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into a wound. It's rare in the UK because the tetanus vaccine has been part of the routine vaccination schedule for many years.

Check if you're at risk of tetanus

There is a risk of tetanus if soil or manure containing bacteria gets into a wound, such as a bite, burn or scratch.

Tetanus is rare, but the chances of getting it are higher if:

  • you have not been fully vaccinated (the tetanus vaccine has routinely been given since 1961)
  • you have a large or deep wound
  • the wound is very dirty or there is something stuck in the wound

Check with your GP surgery if you’re not sure you’ve been fully vaccinated against tetanus.

Symptoms of tetanus

The symptoms of tetanus usually start around 4 to 21 days after infection. Most people get symptoms after about 10 days.

The symptoms of tetanus include:

  • a stiff jaw (lockjaw), which can make opening your mouth difficult
  • painful muscle spasms, often in your back, tummy, arms, legs, hands and feet
  • difficulty breathing
  • swallowing problems
  • a high temperature
  • sweating
  • a fast heartbeat
  • fits (seizures)

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

You have a wound, such as a bite, burn or scratch and:

  • you've not been fully vaccinated against tetanus (or you’re not sure if you have)
  • you've tried to clean the wound but there's still dirt or soil in it
  • the wound is hot or swollen (it may also be painful, red or darker than the surrounding skin)
  • you have a high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Although tetanus is rare, it’s important to get a wound checked if it could become infected.

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

You have a wound, such as a bite, burn or scratch and:

  • it’s large or deep
  • you have a stiff jaw
  • you have painful muscle spasms or stiffness
  • you're finding it hard to breathe
  • you have a fast heartbeat
  • you have fits (seizures)

Tetanus is a medical emergency that needs to be treated immediately in hospital.

Treatments for tetanus

If you have tetanus, or a wound that has a high risk of being infected, you’ll be treated in hospital.

Treatments for tetanus include:

  • cleaning the wound – any dirt, soil or dead tissue will be removed
  • an injection with a medicine called tetanus immunoglobulin
  • other medicines, such as antibiotics and medicines to help control painful muscle spasms and stiffness
  • help with breathing using a machine that gives you oxygen

You may need a tetanus vaccine or booster if you've not been fully vaccinated (5 doses in total), or if your vaccination history is uncertain.

It can take several weeks or sometimes months to fully recover from tetanus.

How to avoid getting tetanus

The best way to avoid getting tetanus is to make sure you're fully vaccinated against it.

The tetanus vaccine is given as part of the routine NHS vaccination schedule.

The vaccines are given at:

Check with your GP surgery if you’re not sure which vaccinations you or your child has had in the past.

Advice for travellers

Make sure you’re up to date with your routine vaccinations before travelling.

Tetanus vaccinations may be recommended before travelling if:

  • you're going to an area where it may be difficult to get medical help quickly and your last vaccine dose was more than 10 years ago
  • you've not been fully vaccinated