Tetanus Information Page
Learning about tetanus is important in your livestock operation.

Information provided by CSL The Australian Vaccine Specialist

  1. Cause
  2. Signs
  3. Epidemiology
  4. Immunity
  5. Treatment
  6. Control

1) Cause
Tetanus occurs when a wound becomes infected with bacterial spores of Clostridium Tetani. These spores germinate, multiply and produce a very powerful poison which affects the muscles. Some cases of tetanus occur from wounds that are so small they are not noticed. 

2) Signs
An affected animal moves with a stiff-legged gait, often with the tail held out stiffly and the ears pricked. As the disease progresses the muscles become so rigid and stiff that the animal may fall and not be able to get up again. Convulsions may occur and death is caused by paralysis of the breathing muscles.

3) Epidemiology
Persistent spores can be found in the soil (it is more prevalent in cultivated than uncultivated soils) and organisms are routinely isolated from the feces of many domestic animals, including the dog and cat, and also from humans.

4) Immunity
Animals that have recovered from natural infection are not immune and still require vaccination for protection. 

5) Treatment
Treatment is difficult, time consuming, very expensive and often unsuccessful. It involves the use of tetanus antitoxin to neutralize unbound circulating toxin, penicillin to prevent further growth of C/. Tetani, muscle relaxants to relax the rigid muscles, and supportive therapy until the toxin is eliminated or destroyed.

6) Control
Vaccination is the only way to provide safe, effective long-term protection against tetanus. If an animal is showing signs of tetanus and or is injured, tetanus antitoxin should be administered to provide immediate but short-term (3 weeks) protection. At the same time a vaccination program should be commenced to develop long-lasting immunity. The tetanus vaccine may be administered intramuscularly on one side of the neck, while the tetanus antitoxin is injected subcutaneously on the other side of the neck. A separate syringe and needle should be used for each product. This will result in both immediate and long lasting protection.

Tetanus vaccine alone provides long-lasting protection but immunity takes 7-10 days to develop, and an injured animal may develop tetanus before protection is achieved. Tetanus antitoxin alone provides protection in 2-3 hours but it only lasts for 3 weeks and tetanus may develop after this protection has waned.