What are the Most Common Side Effects of Tetanus?

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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2018
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Tetanus, caused by a bacteria known as Clostridium tetani, often enters the body through puncture wounds or burns. On average, the incubation period of the virus is 14 days, but there have been cases in which it has been substantially shorter or longer. The most common side effects of tetanus may include muscle spasms, fever, restlessness, difficulty swallowing or breathing, aches and pains, irritability, seizures, or death. A vaccination booster every 10 years can prevent tetanus, but mild side effects of tetanus may result from the vaccine itself. These symptoms may include transient nervous system problems and a generalized flu-like condition.

Clostridium tetani lives in the soil and in the intestinal tract of animals. When a person has a deep puncture wound or burn, the bacteria may enter the body through the breach in the skin's surface. Newborn babies may contract tetanus through their umbilical cord stumps if born in unsanitary conditions.

The virus incubates between two days and two months before the side effects of tetanus appear. The average incubation period is 14 days. At the end of the incubation period, there will be a slow, progressive build-up of tetanus symptoms over the course of the next one to seven days.


Tetanus symptoms may initially include fever, irritability, restlessness, some muscle stiffness, and muscle spasms in the area of the wound. The tetanus side effects gradually worsen as the neurotoxin builds up in the body. What was at first spasms localized in the area of the wound may progress to seizures or constantly contracted muscles. If symptoms of tetanus become severe, the patient may need to be placed on a ventilator because the contracted muscles may make it impossible to breathe.

Tetanus is preventable. Children are typically immunized against tetanus a few months after they are born. Doctors recommend that children and adults get a tetanus booster every 10 years after the initial immunization. If a person gets a deep puncture wound or burn and does not know his tetanus status, he should see a doctor for the immunization as soon as possible after the injury and before symptoms develop.

Following immunization, people may experience mild side effects of tetanus, including temporary neurological symptoms, such as paralysis of the radial nerve or Guillain-Barre syndrome. General flu-like symptoms, malaise, fever, or aches and pains may also be side effects of a tetanus vaccination. A rash or swelling may develop at the injection site. On rare occasions, people may experience anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction to the vaccine. These symptoms may be managed with over-the-counter analgesics.



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