How to Keep Safe in Your Garden - Tetanus

Updated on May 6, 2019
Seeker7 profile image

Helen is from Fife, Scotland. She was a registered nurse for many years before becoming a care manager and trainer for health workers.


Tetanus in Your Garden?

It's not just rusty nails you have to worry about when out and about. Your ordinary garden soil may harbour the tetanus bacteria—a small wound could be enough to allow bacteria entry. Thankfully, tetanus is rare and treatable if medication is prompt.

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is a bacteria—Clostridium tetani. When this gets into the body, its main targets are the nervous system and muscles. However, it's not the bacteria that causes the damage, but the neurotoxin they produce. A neurotoxin is basically a poison that targets nerves, to the point they can't function properly. This leads to the characteristic muscle stiffness and spasms of tetanus.

The bacteria live in soil and lie dormant in house dust. They can enter the body through any kind of wound. Even a small prick from a thorny plant such as a rose is big enough to allow tetanus to get in. Tetanus can take up to 21 days for symptoms to develop.

According to NHS (National Health Service - UK), most cases of tetanus treated are people aged over 65 who have not been immunised—immunisation in the UK only began routinely in 1961.

There are a also various categories of tetanus:

  • Localised
  • Generalised
  • Neonatal
  • Cephalic

For further explanations on the above, see the quick reference table below.

What are the causes of tetanus?

There are several ways that tetanus can infect a person. The bacteria normally, as said previously, enters the body through an open wound that has come into contact with:

  • soil containing the bacteria
  • a dirty knife or nail
  • contaminated house dust
  • animal faeces or occasionally human faeces
  • animals can sometimes transmit tetanus when they bite
  • neonatal tetanus is caused by a mother who has an infected/dirty umbilical wound
  • if you take medications or illegal drugs by using a dirty needle that has tetanus bacteria present

However, many cases of tetanus arise from simple scratches or cuts that have not been cleaned properly, in areas where the tetanus bacteria were present.

Signs & Symptoms of Tetanus

Tetanus Type
Signs & Symptoms
Other information
With this form of tetanus only the muscles near to the wound are affected but the spasms can still be painful.
This is a rare from and is not fatal.
Fever, sweating, jaw muscle spasms and stiffness - this is where the other name for the disease 'lockjaw' comes from. Other muscles of the body could also be affected. In addition, the spasms can cause difficulty with swallowing, breathing and your digestion.
This form of tetanus can be fatal.
This often affects people who have a head injury or children with ear infections. If tetanus is present it can cause paralysis rather than muscle spasms.
This is a very rare form but is fatal.
The baby doesn't feed well, is very stiff and will have muscle spasms. If tetanus is contracted it shows up within 1 week after the baby is born.
This form of tetanus is fatal unless treated quickly.
Tetanus - Clostridium Tetani.
Tetanus - Clostridium Tetani. | Source

Test your knowledge of tetanus

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Keep Safe in Your Garden: How to Protect Against Tetanus

Taking preventative action will not only ensure that you are safe from this disease, but will give you peace of mind to enjoy your garden. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Infection - USA) states that 33% of tetanus infections are caught while in the garden.

The recommended preventative measures are - especially if you're gardening:

  • Ensure that you've received the full immunisation programme. Most vaccination regimes start off in childhood with further jabs given at specific intervals during childhood. However, if you or your child has any deep wounds or injury, then ask for medical advice regarding tetanus.
  • Cover any wounds you have - even small scratches - before you go out to the garden.
  • It's always a good idea to wear protective gloves when working around the garden.
  • Wearing good footwear will also give you protection against cuts and puncture wounds.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after you've finished in the garden.
  • If you get a scratch or other kind of wound, then wash it thoroughly with water and/or an antiseptic solution. Cover the wound.

Your garden is there for you to take pleasure in—whether it's working, relaxing or playing. Adopting simple precautions while there, will ensure you continue to have trouble free enjoyment for many years to come.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Submit a Comment
  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi mary, LOL!!! I have to give you my sincere apologies Mary, the word should have said 'spasms' not 'spams' - there's always one typo that escapes the best efforts to catch them!! But thank you for stopping by as always and glad that you enjoyed the hub. Best wishes!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi mperrottet,

    Many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alastar, I couldn't agree with you more about rabies. Thankfully with the UK being an island we have, on the whole, managed to keep this horrific disease mainly away from us, although you always do hear of incidents back and forward about people contracting the disease - normally from animals brought into the country illegally or sometimes its the folks whow work in the wildlife parks and zoos who accidentally get bitten etc.

    But I remember a friend of my Mum, telling us a horrible story. My Mum was a nurse and Louise was a French girl who had married a Scottish guy she met when on holiday here. Anyway, Louise nursed mostly in her native country of France and she told my Mum about the battle a medical team had to save a Dad and his four year old son from rabies. They never did find out the source of the disease and luckily on this occasion - and against all the odds, both did survive. But what this Dad and his wee boy went through is the stuff of nightmares. I was quite young when I first heard this story from my Mum and Louise and it gave me a few unsettled nights and still makes me uncomfortable even yet. It has to be one of the worst diseases on the planet - far worse than tetanus could ever be.

    Alastar as always I love to hear your thoughts and ideas - they are always interesting and always spot on!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi to :






    Jeanne Grunnert




    J.S. Matthews

    Many thanks to you all for stopping by and for leaving such great comments - much appreciated!

  • mary615 profile image

    Mary Hyatt 

    7 years ago from Florida

    I didn't understand: under localized you mention the word "spam". What does that mean? I have never heard of neonatal tenanus.

    Congrats on HOTD! Very deserving Hub.

    I voted this UP, etc. and will share.

  • J.S.Matthew profile image

    JS Matthew 

    7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

    I have had a few Tetanus Shots in my life due to prevention and close encounters. This is a great Hub to educate people how easy it is to get tetanus. Knowledge is a great prevention! Congratulations on the Hub of the Day. Up and Shared.


  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 

    7 years ago from South Carolina

    Congratulations on earning HOTD accolade for this well written and informative hub about how to prevent getting tetanus while working in a garden.

    Voted up across the board except for funny.

  • Millionaire Tips profile image

    Shasta Matova 

    7 years ago from USA

    Congratulations on Hub of the Day - I hadn't really thought of tetanus when in the garden, but I'll be sure to wash my hands extra thoroughly from now on.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Congrats on your well-deserved Hub of the Day award for this informative post on an important topic! Thanks for a good reminder and info to share with others.

  • profile image

    Jeanne Grunert 

    7 years ago

    Excellent Hub! Both useful and a great reminder to gardeners everywhere to get those tetanus shots.

  • mollymeadows profile image

    Mary Strain 

    7 years ago from The Shire

    Congratulations on HOTD! And thanks for the reminder. I was planning to get my tetanus shot along with my flu shot this year, and now I definitely will. Brrr!

  • moonlake profile image


    7 years ago from America

    Congratulations on Hub of the Day.

    I just saw the doctor on Monday and mentioned the tetanus shot and she wouldn't give it to me. Great Hub.

  • starstream profile image

    Dreamer at heart 

    7 years ago from Northern California

    Those RNs sure keep is tuned in to the diseases and complications which exist for some people when exposed. I admit that only once or twice did I ever worry about the possibility of tetanus when gardening and enjoying country life over twenty years. I am thankful for the reminder for all of us too. We have surely heard some terrible news stories lately about accidents and the invasion of bacteria and virus which causes unthinkable destruction. You have informed us . Thanks

  • mperrottet profile image

    Margaret Perrottet 

    7 years ago from San Antonio, FL

    Great Hub - congratulations on getting Hub of the Day! Good information here. Voted up, useful and interesting.

  • Hareshpahuja profile image


    7 years ago from MUMBAI INDIA

    Very Well written hub with useful information , I wasn't really aware of all this , will keep safe from here on . Thanks for this superior hub.

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 

    7 years ago from North Carolina

    The only disease I can think of off the bat worse than tetanus, or lockjaw, is rabies. Had a young aunt contract tetanus on her farm in the early 60s and she died from it. Helen, I don't care for immunization shots anymore and the last T shot was about 10 or 12 years ago. Do you think there would still be some protection left?

  • Cyndi10 profile image

    Cynthia B Turner 

    7 years ago from Georgia

    I never thought of getting tetnus from the garden. Nails, cuts, scraps, etc. yes, but in the soil or in dust and neonatal? Really good information to know. We have been immunized in the US for some time. It's recommended that you have a booster every 10 years, I think. Well researched and written. Thanks for the info and congrats on Hub of the Day.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi moonlake many thanks for your response and the interesting story about that poor guy. I have heard about rose thorns causing all sorts of nasty wound infections as well as other things getting in through the wound, such as tetanus. My Mum was a nurse and worked in both infectious diseases units and units where patients had contracted tetanus etc. The stories she would tell us made me very aware of what could happen so easily and so I guess it makes you take precautions.

    That's unusal for someone to be allergic to the shot, but I have heard of this. It's not surprising then that you are so cautious. Many thanks for the vote up!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi nighthag, many thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment - appreciated. It is such a horrid illness I wouldn't wish it on anyone!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi kissayer, many thanks for stopping by. I have to admit that neonatal tetanus was a knew one to me as well. Just shows how much can be learned on Hub Pages - awesome!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Many thanks for stopping by teaches12345 and glad that you found the hub useful Many thanks as well for the vote up - much appreciated!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LMAO!! Frank you make me laugh so much every time you write something!! You are so honest and I think you're awesome!! I don't think I've ever had anyone try the test out before reading the hub - I'll need to try this myself at some time!!

  • moonlake profile image


    7 years ago from America

    Years ago I heard of a man working in his garden he was jabbed with a rose thorn and he got tetanus. I never forgot it and always worried about it. I'm allergic to the shot so I know it has been many years since I had the last one. Voted up on your hub.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi VirginiaLynne, many thanks for stopping by.

    I agree with what you were saying about you never know when we might need protection. I was just reading Rosemay's comment and she was scratched on the eyeball with a twig shooting up! I've looked after one guy who contracted tetanus when out hiking. He was so ill for quite a few weeks but luckily did make a full recovery.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay - lovely to hear from you!

    Ouch! That must have been very painful, getting a scratch on your eyeball! I hope that you didn't end up with any infections. The eye is so delicate and its sore when anything goes wrong there.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kashmir56, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

  • nighthag profile image

    K.A.E Grove 

    7 years ago from Australia

    I have to admit I have never thought to worry about this while in the garden before and will be sure to take more care from here on. Thank you

  • kissayer profile image

    Kristy Sayer 

    7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    This is a great series! I had no idea that neonatal tetanus even existed, wow.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    7 years ago

    I am reminded of the importance of washing every wound when working outdoors, even the small cuts. Great hub post and one that will help save lives for sure! Voted up.

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    7 years ago from Shelton

    I read this and I didn't comment sorry bout that it had me thinking.. I mena I never knew what Tetanus was.. or is.. I even got that little quiz wrong :( I took the quiz before reading your hub.. I do that to see if I could guess the right answers... but nope 2 right

  • VirginiaLynne profile image

    Virginia Kearney 

    7 years ago from United States

    Very interesting! I think it is so important for adults to keep up with regular vaccinations. You never know when you might need to be protected. I was stung by a sting ray in Florida and had a terrible infection. Luckily, I had just had a tetanus booster, but they gave me another one just in case. Voted up and pinned.

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 

    7 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    This is a well presented very useful factual hub Seeker. It is always good to keep immunisations up to date.

    About 4 years ago I was clearing an overgrown corner when a twig shot up and scratched my eyeball, the first thing they asked at the hospital was when I had my last tetanus jab. Accidents happen and it is always best to keep safe.

    An important topic, voting up and more

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    7 years ago from Massachusetts

    This is such a great written hub with valuable and useful information to help keep everyone safe in the garden, well done !

    Vote up and more !!!


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