Tetanus, commonly called lockjaw, is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system. It is contracted through a cut or wound that becomes contaminated with tetanus bacteria. The bacteria can get in through even a tiny pinprick or scratch, but deep puncture wounds or cuts like those made by nails or knives are especially susceptible to infection with tetanus. Tetanus bacteria are present worldwide and are commonly found in soil, dust and manure. Infection with tetanus causes severe muscle spasms, leading to "locking" of the jaw so the patient cannot open his/her mouth or swallow, and may even lead to death by suffocation. Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person.
Common first signs of tetanus are a headache and muscular stiffness in the jaw (lockjaw) followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty in swallowing, rigidity of abdominal muscles, spasms, sweating and fever.
Symptoms usually begin 8 days after the infection, but may range in onset from 3 days to 3 weeks. Vaccination is the best way to protect against tetanus.