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Daniel J Sexton, MD
Section Editor
John G Bartlett, MD
Deputy Editor
Anna R Thorner, MD


Tetanus is a nervous system disorder characterized by muscle spasms that is caused by the toxin-producing anaerobe Clostridium tetani, which is found in the soil. The clinical features of tetanus and its relationship to traumatic injuries were well known among the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and to many clinicians before the introduction of vaccination with tetanus toxoid in the 1940s. The term "lockjaw" (now called trismus) lives in modern parlance as a reminder of one of the cardinal features of tetanus: intense painful spasms of the masseter muscles.

Tetanus can present in one of four clinical patterns:





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