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Tetanus is an often fatal disease, which is present worldwide. It is a consequence of a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The main reservoirs of the bacterium are herbivores, which harbour the bacteria in their bowels (with no consequences for them) and disseminate the “spore form” of the bacteria in the environment with their faeces.

Most cases of human disease occur as a result of a wound being contaminated by earth or dust. After an incubation period averaging two weeks (sometimes longer), the toxin produced by the bacteria in the wound is absorbed and starts producing its effects. Non-specific early signs (fever, irritability) are followed by the appearance of localised muscular contractions. Finally, generalised spasms may occur, often leading to death from heart and lung failure. The overall death rate is close to 50%, depending on the clinical presentation, patient’s age and medical support. Therapy is based on cleaning the infected wound, administration of antibiotics and specific immunoglobulins, and intensive care support.

An effective, inactivated vaccine is available. Prophylaxis is based on its generalised use and on the appropriate treatment of contaminated wounds.

Read more about tetanus in the factsheet for health professionals.




Get the latest surveillance data on tetanus​ from EU and EEA countries through the Surveillance Atlas of Infectious Diseases. 





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