tetanus klm health services

Tetanus is a serious infectious disease that is caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. These bacteria release a toxin that affects the nerves causing symptoms such as muscle spasms. Tetanus is a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated. The incubation period of tetanus is usually between three and twenty-one days, but can also amount to a few months. The causative agent of the disease occurs worldwide in soil and in the gastrointestinal tract of certain mammalian species (humans, horses, cows). Today, tetanus is very rare in the Netherlands because the vaccine is part of the National Immunisation Programme. However, cases of this disease still regularly occur in countries where vaccination rates are low.

What are the symptoms?

The toxin produced by the bacteria often cause stiffness around the infected wound. Other symptoms include painful muscle spasms that can cause breathing difficulties, which in turn may lead to problems with swallowing. In severe cases, a patient’s head, neck and spinal column enter into a complete ‘bridging’ or ‘arching’. This may result in bone fractures and heart problems.

How do you catch tetanus?

Tetanus bacteria enter the body through a wound and do not spread from person to person. People can become infected with tetanus when deep wounds come in contact with soil, road dirt, dust, or manure. A small wound is all it takes to be infected. Being bitten by animals that have dirt in their mouths may too be the cause tetanus infection. The disease can be treated with high doses of antibodies. In most cases a tetanus vaccination is offered.


Since the 1950, a tetanus vaccination is given to all children in the Netherlands (as part of the National Immunisation Programme). This jab produces antibodies in the blood. Without vaccination, these antibodies are not present. People who have suffered from tetanus in the past are not automatically protected against new infections. The vaccine is usually given in combination with vaccines against diphtheria, polio and, in children, pertussis, and is also known as the DTP vaccine. If you are traveling to a country where this disease is prevalent, a booster vaccination is recommended.