Tetanus, also called “lockjaw,” is a very serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system. It can lead to painful muscle contractions throughout the body, especially in the neck and jaw muscles. This is a potentially life-threatening illness that can impact a patient’s ability to breathe. The bacteria associated with tetanus (Clostridium tetani) is found in soil, dust and animal feces. Most people who get tetanus contract it due to a deep puncture wound from a knife, nail or other sharp object. When tetanus bacteria infiltrates a deep wound in the flesh, its spores can produce a potent toxin that impacts the nerves that control muscle movement. While a tetanus infection can be medically treated, the treatment is not always effective. The best defense against tetanus is a tetanus vaccination, which most people initially receive in childhood as the Tdap vaccine that protects against whooping cough (pertussis) and diphtheria as well as tetanus. Those who have been vaccinated should receive a tetanus booster shot once every 10 years.