About tetanus

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 I see a doctor about tetanus?

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 five 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 his last tetanus immunisation more than five years ago, he might need a booster dose if he has a dirty wound or animal bite.

It’s always important to clean wounds and abrasions carefully and remove any foreign material from them.