Hesperian Health Guides

Tetanus (lockjaw)

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HealthWiki > New Where There Is No Doctor > First Aid > Tetanus (lockjaw)

Tetanus is a deadly infection that gets into a wound or the umbilical cord, and then spreads throughout the body.

a person lying down with arched back and clenched fists.
Signs of tetanus can start a day or weeks after an injury.
  • Sweating.
  • Fast pulse.
  • Tense contractions of all the muscles.
  • During contractions, breathing may stop.
  • Extreme muscle spasms that come and go.
  • Lockjaw (cannot open the mouth easily).
  • Stiff neck and a stiff, board-hard belly.

Get medical help fast for these signs!


Tetanus is much easier to prevent than to treat. Vaccination and good wound cleaning are the best prevention. For a vaccination schedule, see Vaccines.

Wounds most likely to develop tetanus

  • Puncture wounds.
  • Gunshot wounds.
  • Broken bones, when the bone pokes
    through the skin (open fractures).
a leg with an open fracture.
  • Severe burns or frostbite.
  • Unsafe abortions and injections or piercings with reused, unsterilized needles can also lead to tetanus.

a foot stepping on a nail that pokes up through a board.
a young woman injecting herself with a needle as a young man speaks.
My turn next.
barbed wire.
a needle piercing an earlobe.

Clean these wounds well and give antitetanus immunoglobulin if tetanus vaccinations are not up to date.
Also give metronidazole.

Newborn tetanus

Newborns become infected with tetanus through the umbilical cord. You can protect infants by cutting the cord with a boiled blade, by keeping the cord clean, and by vaccinating the pregnant mother.

This page was updated:18 Jan 2019