Tetanus is due to an infection with a bacteria (Clostridium tetani). This bacteria produces a toxin, tetanospasmin, which interferes with the function of some nerves. Muscles go into spasm and cannot relax. The jaw muscles are usually affected first, hence the common name Lockjaw. Even in rich territories 40% of people (80% of newborn babies) who develop tetanus can die from it.
The spores of tetanus live in faeces (particularly horse manure), soil and dust. They can get into the body through the tiniest cut. Symptoms can start between 2 and 30 days from the injury and death usually occurs within 10 days. Prior immunisation with tetanus toxoid is completely effective against the effects of tetanospasmin in the individual. Unlike the other infections here, vaccination does not reduce the risk to those who are not immunised, except the newborn who are protected when their mothers are immune. In the newborn in non sterile conditions infection can enter through the unhealed umbilicus (navel/belly button).
In 2002 Tetanus caused 1.9% of all deaths of children under 15 years old.
Tetanus caused 0.4% of all deaths worldwide in 2002 with an average of 34 deaths per million people.