Tetanus, also called lockjaw because of the way it affects the facial muscles, is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Spores of the bacteria thrive in soil, dust and animal feces and enter the body through a wound or cut in the skin.
These symptoms take from 10 days to several months to develop, by which time the nervous system can be involved, making treatment difficult and sometimes ineffective.
Tetanus is fatal in about 40 percent of all people who develop it, and the risk is particularly high for women over 50 because they were never required to have an immunization before starting school. (Many men over 50 were immunized while in military service.)
Tetanus can be completely prevented by vaccinantion. The vaccination is routine for infants and small children, and is included in the DPT series. Adults and teens should get booster shots every ten years to prevent infection, or immediately (within 24-48 hours) following a puncture wound.