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Causes and Transmission

Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. Tetanus bacteria are everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust and manure.

Common Ways Tetanus Gets Into Your Body

Woman massaging her footThe bacteria can get into the body through broken skin, usually through injuries from contaminated objects. Certain breaks in the skin that are more likely to get infected with tetanus bacteria. These include:

  • Wounds contaminated with dirt, poop (feces), or spit (saliva)
  • Wounds caused by an object puncturing the skin, like a nail or needle (puncture wounds)
  • Burns
  • Crush injuries
  • Injuries with dead tissue

Rare Ways Tetanus Gets Into Your Body

Tetanus has also been linked to clean superficial wounds (when only the topmost layer of skin is scraped off), surgical procedures, insect bites, dental infections, compound fractures (a break in the bone where it is exposed), chronic sores and infections, and intravenous (IV) drug use.

The incubation period – time from exposure to illness – is usually 3–21 days (average 10 days), although it may range from 1 day to several months, depending on the kind of wound. Most cases occur within 14 days. In general, shorter incubation periods are seen with more heavily contaminated wounds, more severe disease, and a worse outcome of the disease (prognosis).

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