Tetanus is caused by a spore-forming bacterium, Clostridium tetani, which is normally found in the intestines of many animals and occurs in soil. Bacteria that form spores have an increased ability to survive despite adverse conditions. Especially in fertilised soil, the amount of bacteria can be large. The bacterium can reach the bloodstream via small wounds that can occur during, for example, gardening. Nerve toxins formed by the bacterium, so-called toxins, can then cause disease.
Risk areas for tetanus
Tetanus is an unusual disease in Sweden. Unfortunately, in other parts of the world the disease still occurs, especially in some developing countries. Then infection can, for example, be spread through non-sterile instruments in healthcare. In Sweden, especially women born before 1950 may have poor basic protection against tetanus. Men have often been vaccinated in the past when they did their military service.
The time from infection to illness varies from three to 21 days. Symptoms of the disease can include headaches, stiffness in the jaws and neck, sweating and fever, difficulty swallowing, painful uncontrolled cramps that begin in the neck, mouth and throat and then spread throughout the body. The risk of suffocation is then great if you do not receive advanced medical care. Internationally, the mortality rate in the disease is reported to be between 8-50 percent. The large variation probably depends on the availability of intensive care in the different countries. In Sweden, the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control reported 8 cases of tetanus during the years 2002-2010.
Vaccination against tetanus
A combined vaccine that includes tetanus is repeatedly given in the childhood vaccination program in Sweden. Today, a total of five doses are given, of which basic vaccination with three doses is given during the first year of life. For basic immunisation, a special vaccine is given. Thereafter, refill doses are made with vaccine preparations. An adult who for some reason has not been vaccinated as a child should contact our clinics before the visit to ensure that the right vaccine is available. If you have received basic vaccination according to the childhood vaccination program, you should take a supplemental dose every 20 years.