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 abrasion, 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.
Medical help: when to get it for children with tetanus
If your child has tetanus symptoms, they need immediate medical attention. Go to your hospital emergency department straight away.
Even if your child doesn’t have symptoms, you should see your GP if your child:
- is bitten by an animal
- has a 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.
You know your child best. If your child seems unwell, trust your instincts and seek medical attention.
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 avoid tetanus is to have your child immunised and keep up with immunisation in the teenage years.
As part of the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP), your child will get free immunisation against tetanus at:
- 6-8 weeks
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 18 months
- 4 years
- 12-13 years.
These immunisations are given by injection, often in combination with immunisations 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.