Tetanus, caused by the bacillus Clostridium Tetani, is quite rare in developed countries, but is still an endemic infection in India.


Tetanus [Illustration by Anup Singh]

The most common form of the disease, neonatal tetanus (newborns suffering from tetanus), has a fatality rate as high as 80 to 90 per cent. One has, however, noticed a decrease in the neonatal mortality rate after the introduction of the national immunisation programme.

Factors leading to the disease

  • Unhygienic delivery practices.


  • Unimmunised pregnancy.


  • Lack of medical attention.


Clostridium Tetani, the bacillus which causes tetanus, lives in soil, dust and the intestines of many animals such as cattle, horses, goat and sheep and is excreted in their faeces. As a result, farmers are always at a risk of contracting the disease because of their contact with the soil.

Mode of transmission

A normal person can get infected when a wound gets contaminated by the tetanus bacilli. And the range of injuries and accidents that can lead to tetanus is huge – from a pin prick, skin abrasion and ulcer, to burns, bites and stings, unsterile surgery, intra uterine death, bowel surgery, dental extractions, and eye and ear infections.


  • Rigidity of muscles
  • Painful spasms of the voluntary muscles, such as lock-jaw.


Active immunisation: Tetanus is best prevented by active immunisation with Tetanus Toxoid. Infants are administered a combined Tetanus vaccine (DPT) compulsorily.

In the national immunisation schedule, three doses of DPT is given at an interval of four to eight weeks, starting at six weeks of age, followed by a booster at 18 months, a second booster at five to six years and a third booster after 10 years of age.

In adults, a shot of purified Tetanus Toxoid vaccine after an injury or accident is quite useful. And, if you are a pregnant woman, you have to take two doses of the vaccine with a gap of at least a month in between.

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