A tetanus infection leads to severe, painful muscle spasms in one or more parts of the body. There is often cramping in the muscles of the face and jaw, so it’s no longer possible to open your mouth properly. The muscles in the back may become so stiff that your spine arches backwards. If the breathing muscles are affected, it could result in breathing difficulties or even suffocation.
Tetanus is caused by bacteria that live in soil. They can get into the body through small cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds (for instance, caused by a splinter). The symptoms usually start between three days and three weeks after becoming infected.
The tetanus vaccine is part of the 6-in-1 vaccine that babies are given in their first year of life. This combined vaccine protects them against 6 diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, hepatitis B and hemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Three doses of the vaccine are given in total.
In Germany, the Standing Committee on Vaccination recommends the following schedule for the 6-in-1 vaccination:
- First dose at the age of 2 months
- Second dose at 4 months
- Third (final) dose at 11 months
The first tetanus booster shot is given at the age of 5 or 6 years, and the second is given between the ages of 9 and 16 years. People are advised to have a booster shot every ten years after that.