What causes Tetanus? How is it spread?

Tetanus is caused by a bacterium, which lives in dirt, dust and soil. It is also present in in human and animal feces (poop), and sometimes in animal saliva (spit).

The bacteria can get into your body wherever your skin is broken. This can happen from a scrape or scratch, from a puncture wound such as from a rusty (dirty) nail, or from a dirty needle (street drug use).

The bacteria produce a poison that affects your nerves (a neurotoxin). This makes your muscles tighten, cramp, and become stiff and painful. You may also have difficulty swallowing and breathing. The first muscles affected are usually in the jaw, so tetanus is sometimes called lockjaw.

You cannot get tetanus just from touching an infected object. There has to be at least a tiny cut, scratch or scrape in your skin for the bacteria to get in.

Tetanus does not spread directly from person to person. The best way to prevent tetanus is vaccination.

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