Tetanus or lockjaw is caused by a germ called clostridium tetani, which grows in damaged tissues for instance in a wound or in a baby’s umbilical cord. The germ is common in the environment, often present in soil containing manure. The germ produces a toxin, which poisons the nerves that controls the muscles and this causes stiffness. Tetanus makes the body stiff by contracting all the muscles of the affected person.

In newborn babies, the disease is called neonatal tetanus(NNT). Neonatal tetanus kills between 500,000 and 1 million babies in the world every year. Almost all babies who contacted the disease die and NNT is a major cause of neonatal deaths.

How Tetanus Can Be Contacted

People of all age can contact tetanus. Maternal tetanus commonly occurs following an abortion or after delivery.

Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person. Exposure of wound or cut to soil or animal dung may foster the entrance of the germ. Tetanus germs are likely to thrive in deep puncture wounds caused by dirty nails, needles, barbed wire, thorns etc.

The use of dirty knife, razor or blade to cut the umbilical cord of a newborn baby may cause infection. Infection may also occur if animal dung or ash is used to dress the cord as usually occur in some cultures. Sometimes infection follows circumcision and skin piercing.

Symptoms of Tetanus

Symptoms of tetanus include:

1. Muscular stiffness in the jaw (at first stage) followed by

2. Neck stiffness,

3. Difficulty swallowing,

4. Stiffness of stomach muscles,

5. Muscles spasms,

6. Sweating and

7. Fever.

Prevention of Tetanus

Tetanus is prevented with administration of the tetanus vaccine which is usually given in combination with the diphtheria, pertussis, haemophilus influenza type B and hepatitis B toxoid as PENTA (pentavalent vaccine) in children.

Prevention of tetanus requires women of child bearing age to receive correct doses of tetanus toxoid according to the Nigerian schedule for women of child bearing age. This result in protection of mothers and in tetanus antibodies being transferred from them to their foetuses; the infants at birth are thus protected against the disease. Clean practices during delivery and clean wound care are also very important in preventing tetanus.


It is important that all women of child bearing age complete their tetanus vaccine doses for optimal protection against tetanus

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