Tetanus is caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which can ‘sleep’ in soil, dirt or animal poo. This bacteria can get into your system through a dirty cut or scrape, an animal bite or a burn.
In Australia, most children are immunised against tetanus. This means tetanus isn’t common in Australia.
Symptoms of tetanus
A tetanus infection can lead to severe muscle pain and spasms all over the body. It can also lead to swallowing or breathing difficulties.
In some cases, tetanus can cause death.
Should your child see a doctor about tetanus symptoms?
Yes. You should always see your GP if your child:
- is bitten by an animal
- has a very dirty wound
- gets cut or scratched by anything dirty.
Seeing your GP is particularly important if your child isn’t fully immunised or if your child’s last tetanus immunisation was more than 5 years ago.
Treatment for tetanus
Treatment for tetanus can be very difficult. It involves antitoxins, antibiotics, wound cleaning and sometimes surgery.
In severe cases, children need medicine to relax their painful stiff muscles. They might also need machines to help them breathe.
Prevention of tetanus
The best way to prevent tetanus is to have your child immunised.
As part of the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP), your child will get free immunisation against tetanus:
- at 6-8 weeks
- at 4 months
- at 6 months
- at 4 years
- in Year 7 or 8 at secondary school.
These immunisations are given by injection, often in combination with immunisation against other diseases. If your child had their last tetanus immunisation more than 5 years ago, they might need a booster dose if they have a dirty wound or animal bite.
You can find out whether your child’s tetanus immunisation is up to date by:
- checking your child’s immunisation history through your Medicare online account on myGov
- asking your immunisation provider
- calling the Australian Immunisation Registry on 1800 653 809.
It’s always important to clean cuts and abrasions carefully and remove any dirt, gravel or other foreign material from them.