Tetanus: A Once Common Disease for Farmers and Gardeners

Painting depicting the effects of tetanus

Tetanus: A Once Common Disease for Farmers and Gardeners

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is now prevented by vaccine, but in the early 20th century it was still a surge that affected farmers and gardeners.  Popular belief is that rust causes tetanus.  It doesn’t, but the bacteria that causes the disease is found in soil, manure, dust and saliva.

The bacteria enters the body through a cut or a burn.  The incubation period can last anywhere from three to 21 days.

Starting in the 1890s, the disease was treated with an antitoxin. The vaccine wasn’t developed until the 1920s.

Symptoms of Tetanus

  • Muscles spasms or stiffness that begins in the jaw
  • Fever
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Tightening of the vocal cords
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle spasms that can last for several minutes and involve the entire body, some severe enough to break bones
  • Headache
  • Trouble swallowing

About 10 percent of cases are fatal.


Updated: 28 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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