Facebook post on tetanus jabs gets a lot wrong

27 July 2021
What was claimed

If a wound was not caused by a rusty nail where farm animals graze you most likely don’t have to worry about tetanus.

Our verdict

Some wounds carry a higher risk of tetanus than others. However, it is not true to say that a wound caused by a rusty nail where farm animals graze is the only type of injury that could lead to tetanus infection.

What was claimed

Tetanus is an anaerobic bacteria meaning it can't survive in oxygenated environments and because blood has oxygen in it, if the wound bled, there is no risk of tetanus.

Our verdict

Although the bacteria requires anaerobic conditions, the spores can survive in many different environments for a long time and therefore it is incorrect to say that a wound that bleeds eliminates any risk of tetanus.

A Facebook post contains lots of false information about tetanus, including misinformation about the types of wounds that can lead to tetanus infection, and the fact that a bleeding wound means there is “NO tetanus”. 

What is Tetanus? 

Tetanus is an infection caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani, and affects the muscles and nervous system. It is rare in the UK, but can be fatal.

The symptoms are caused by toxins produced by the bacteria once it enters the body.  

A bleeding wound does not completely eliminate the risk of tetanus

The bacteria that cause tetanus can live in the gut and faeces of horses and other animals

The bacteria itself is anaerobic (lives in an oxygen-free environment), but it produces spores which allow it to reproduce. These spores can live in lots of different environments including ones with oxygen, like on surfaces and in soil, and can survive for a very long time.

Infection in humans then occurs if spores are introduced into the body, for example through a cut or wound.

The Facebook post claims: “If your wound was not caused by a rusty nail (embedded in a place where cattle, sheep, or horses graze and poop, or where cattle, sheep, or horses used to graze or poop) or a pitch fork while mucking stalls... you most likely don’t have to worry about tetanus.”

This isn’t true. While some types of injuries may pose a higher risk than others, the NHS website describes several different types of injury that could pose a risk of tetanus infection, especially if you are not vaccinated, including eye injury, contaminated injections, piercings, burns and animal bites. Public Health England says tetanus may also follow injecting drug use or abdominal surgery. 

The post adds: “Once exposed to oxygen, it dies. Blood carries oxygen, so if the wound is bleeding, it is being oxygenated.”

Although it is true that the bacteria require an environment without oxygen, it is not true that the presence of oxygen eliminates the risk of tetanus infection. A bleeding wound does not completely eliminate the risk of tetanus. 

How is it treated?

Vaccines against tetanus are a large part of why we have so few cases in the UK. The vaccine can protect against tetanus infection, and it is included in the standard UK immunisation schedule. 

The post claims that if there were concerns about tetanus exposure, the only thing that could help would be an injection of tetanus immunoglobulin. This contains antibodies that stop the tetanus toxin working and offers immediate short term protection.

The NHS website says that if somebody has a very high risk wound (but has not yet developed symptoms), the wound would be cleaned and immunoglobulins may be given. In addition, if somebody has not been fully vaccinated against tetanus, or isn’t sure, they may be given a top up vaccine. 

If a tetanus infection is suspected (due to symptoms or laboratory tests), lots of different treatments may be given, including immunoglobulins, and this would normally require admission to hospital and an intensive care setting. 

Tetanus immunisation is usually combined with others, for example, polio and diphtheria

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because tetanus is very rare in the UK, but tetanus spores can live in lots of environments, and a bleeding wound does not automatically remove the risk of tetanus infection.

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