Tetanus (Lockjaw)

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is often known as “lockjaw”, and is spread by a bacteria.  The bacteria lives in dirt, soil and dust.  It may also be in human and animal stool (poop) and sometimes in animal saliva (spit).

What are the symptoms?

Tetanus affects muscle control. Muscles become stiff and painful all over the body.  It can even affect breathing and swallowing.  Some other symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Jaw Cramping
  • Seizures
  • Fever and sweating,
  • High blood pressure and
  • Fast heart rate

How is it spread?

Tetanus does not spread person to person. If someone is not vaccinated against tetanus, tetanus bacteria can get in through any cuts in the skin, from scrapes and scratches or through wounds like stepping on a rusty nail. The best way to prevent tetanus is being up to date on your vaccines. 

Is there treatment?

Hospital treatment is required.  Tetanus is a very serious infection and without proper hospital treatment a person can die from it.

Is it contagious?

Tetanus is not passed person to person.

How do I prevent tetanus?

If you and your family are up-to-date on your routine vaccinations, you should be protected from tetanus.  Tetanus immunization is part of a vaccine given from 2 months of age over several doses into adulthood. Check your “yellow card” and with your health care provider to ensure your routine vaccinations are up to date.  If you would like to compare your immunization record to Ontario’s Recommended Immunization schedule it may help you identify any vaccines you are missing to your family doctor. There is a risk of getting tetanus if people are unvaccinated.  Thanks to routine immunization, tetanus is rare in Canada. People of any age can get tetanus if they aren’t vaccinated.  Older people often are unaware that they require a booster shot with tetanus in it. Routine activities like gardening may pose a risk, if a cut or wound is exposed to soil.

Health Care Providers

Suspected and confirmed cases of tetanus are reportable to the Health Unit 519-258-2146 by the next working day.

Provincial Case definition 

Ontario’s Public Health Infectious Disease Protocol / Management of Tetanus 


Consult with the Public Health Laboratory about appropriate specimens and testing, toll-free at 1-877-604-4567

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