What are the symptoms of tetanus?

The time between exposure to the bacteria and become ill is usually 3 to 21 days. Sometimes tetanus symptoms appear more quickly or slowly. The interval may range from just 1 day to several months.

The most common symptom of tetanus is sudden cramping and tightening of muscles, beginning with the neck and face. The jaw often locks shut. This is why tetanus is sometimes called lockjaw.

Other symptoms include:

  • headache,
  • trouble swallowing,
  • seizures (violent jerking or shaking of the body),
  • fever and sweating,
  • high blood pressure, and
  • fast heart rate.

If not treated right away, tetanus can be very serious. The muscle stiffness spreads to the lungs and causes difficulty in breathing. About 10 to 20% of people infected die.

If people do get tetanus, complications from the infection can include:

  • infection of the lungs (pneumonia),
  • broken or fractured bones due to muscle spasms, and
  • nerve or brain damage in infants or children.

What to do if you become ill

See a health care provider as soon as possible. The best way to prevent tetanus is vaccination.

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