Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is “lockjaw” because it often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Vaccines are recommended for infants, children, teens, and adults to prevent tetanus. Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases because it does not spread from person to person. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust, and manure and enter the body through breaks in the skin – usually cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects.
Today, tetanus is uncommon in the United States, with an average of 29 reported cases per year from 1996 through 2009. Nearly all cases of tetanus are among people who have never received a tetanus vaccine, or adults who don’t stay up to date on their 10-year booster shots.