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What is Anti-Tetanus Serum?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Anti-tetanus serum is a preparation of tetanus antibodies administered for the prevention and treatment of tetanus, also known as lockjaw, a serious bacterial infection. In patients with tetanus, bacteria in the body produce a compound known as tetanus toxoid, leading to muscle spasms and decreased muscle control. The condition can be fatal once the airway is involved and the patient is having trouble breathing. It is preventable with anti-tetanus serum.

Terms like “tetanus immune globulin” may also be used to refer to this preparation. Historically, it has been produced by stimulating animals to produce tetanus antibodies and preparing a serum from their blood. Routine tetanus vaccination introduces the body to antibodies of tetanus, providing passive immune protection. The body can also start making its own antibodies. The passive nature of the protection is one reason why people need periodic boosters, to make sure protection is present in the event of tetanus exposure.

The vaccine is routinely given in a combination vaccination for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (DPT). When people are at special risk of developing tetanus, as is the case with puncture wounds with unclean materials, an administration of anti-tetanus serum may be given to jolt the immune system into action with the goal of trapping any tetanus toxin produced in the body before it has a chance to lock on to muscles. Serum is also used in the treatment of patients with known tetanus infection.

Treatment with anti-tetanus serum cannot reverse damage to the body caused by tetanus, but it can prevent further damage, binding to the tetanus toxoid so it can be disposed of safely. When combined with antibiotics to kill the bacteria, it is used to treat patients. Patients may also need supportive care like mechanical ventilation if they have experienced muscle damage as a result of tetanus toxoid exposure.

This product is manufactured by several drug companies and is often made available for free or at low cost to make sure everyone in the population has anti-tetanus serum injections when recommended, as preventative care is far less costly than management of infections after the fact. It is advisable to keep copies of vaccination records so people know when they need booster shots. These copies can also be useful in emergencies when doctors want to know how long it has been since a patient received a booster vaccination. People who aren't sure should be honest about this with their care providers.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon989415 — On Mar 05, 2015

When can tetanus and anti tetanus serum be given?

By Misscoco — On May 23, 2011

My daughter cut her hand on a piece of glass, so I took her to the doctor's. It was a bad enough cut that they gave her an anti-tetanus serum.

I was curious, so I asked the nurse what actually causes tetanus. She told me that it comes from a bacteria infection that is found in the dirt.It comes off of animal feces as spores with bacteria inside.

When you get a puncture from a rusty nail or other dirty thing, it's probably in the dirt, and you might get some of the bacteria into your body.

Then the bacteria grows and makes a toxin. This toxin can cause muscles to tighten up. When this happens, it might make your jaw muscle lock and you can't breathe This is such a serious disease, that you can often get the booster shot for free, so everyone will have it.

By sweetPeas — On May 21, 2011

Boy, it sure is important to keep track of when you need a booster shot for tetanus. That disease tetanus, or lockjaw, sounds serious. It sounds like it is very preventable, if you get the serum.

If you have a bad puncture wound, the serum works very well so it doesn't get to your muscles.

It must have been really bad in the old days before they had shots for these awful diseases. There must have been an awful lot of physical suffering.

I'm just thankful for all the hard-working scientists who discovered all the things to keep us alive and to keep us from suffering the effects of so many illnesses.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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