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Tetanus in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 6, 2024.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust, and the bowel movements of some animals and humans. The bacteria may enter your child's body through a skin wound. A mother can also pass the bacteria to her baby during a vaginal birth. The bacteria produce a toxin that damages nerves. This causes severe muscle spasms. Left untreated, tetanus can be life-threatening.

What are the signs and symptoms of tetanus?

Your child may have stiff and weak muscles only in the area of the wound. This is called localized tetanus. Symptoms may go away without treatment. Your newborn may start to have signs 3 to 14 days after birth. Your older child may develop signs or symptoms within days or months of the infection. The following are common signs and symptoms of tetanus:

What increases my child's risk for tetanus?

How is tetanus diagnosed and treated?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child's wound and ask about his or her symptoms. Tell the provider if the wound was not cleaned immediately or you saw dirt or other objects in the wound. No tests are available to check for tetanus. Your child's healthcare provider will look for certain signs or symptoms, such as lockjaw, to help diagnose tetanus. If the infection becomes generalized, your child will need to be treated in a hospital. He or she will be kept in a dark, quiet room to prevent muscle spasms. He or she may also need the following:

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

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What can I do to prevent tetanus?

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

When should I call my child's pediatrician?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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