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What is tetanus?

Tetanus, is an often-fatal bacterial disease caused by the organism Clostridium tetani, which is found in soil and droppings.1,2  It’s found all over the world and can affect humans as well as horses. The bacterium can survive as spores in the environment for long periods of time, and while it is in the soil, it’s harmless. However, the bacteria can enter the body through wounds, particularly puncture wounds, if the wound is dirty. The tetanus bacteria do not need oxygen (they are classified as ‘anaerobic’ bacteria) and so they multiply rapidly in the damaged tissues at the site of the injury.  The bacteria produce a powerful nerve toxin, causing distressing symptoms and death in about 80% of cases.1


  1. Hoare R. Horse health – vaccination against tetanus and strangles. PrimeFact 495, June 2007. NSW Department of Primary Industries.
  2. Queensland Horse Council Inc. Tetanus Fact Sheet, May 2010.