Shutterstock

Photo by: Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

You Don't Get Tetanus From Rust

By: Ashley Hamer

Rusty nails won't give you tetanus, but find out what does.

August 01, 2019

We've all heard that stepping on a rusty nail can give you tetanus, and ... it's true! But not for the reason you might think. Rust doesn't actually cause tetanus.

Photo by: Shutterstock

Shutterstock

So ... Do Nails Cause Tetanus?

Not exactly. Tetanus is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani, which makes its home in soil, dust, and feces. If you get a puncture wound from something that's been exposed to any one of those elements, regardless of whether there's rust, it's possible to become infected with tetanus. Nails are a common route for infection because C. tetani thrives in an oxygen-deprived setting like the one far below your skin's surface. Still, every injury that breaks the skin — from a dog bite to a safety-pin mishap — carries with it the potential for tetanus.

How Rust Got a Bad Rap

So why the old wives' tale about rust causing tetanus, you ask? According to HowStuffWorks, "... the thinking goes that if the nail has been outside long enough to get rusty, then it's probably been exposed to soils containing the bacteria." Rust also creates a new, rough texture on the surface of a nail, full of microscopic hiding places for bacteria.

The disease's effects can be severe, even fatal: C. tetani releases a powerful neurotoxin called tetanospasmin that can cause muscle stiffness and convulsive spasms that usually begin in the jaw — thus the infection's nickname, "lockjaw." If you suspect you're at risk for tetanus, it's a good idea to check if you're up to date on your vaccines. Most people are vaccinated for tetanus when they're young but don't get regular tetanus boosters. If you're in doubt, it might be time to call the doctor.

This article first appeared on Curiosity.com.

Next Up

The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Virus

As the death tolls rise, Coronavirus is on the minds of people all over the world. Learn about this new virus and how we got here. Originally published: 2/20/2020 Updated: 3/9/2020

Food Coma? Here's Why You Get Sleepy After You Eat

You can reduce the need for nodding off after dinner with a few simple steps.

What Would Happen If You Stopped Time?

There never seems to be enough hours in a day.

Here's Why You Unconsciously Copy Other People's Mannerisms

Get to know how the chameleon effect works with people.

Why Do You Feel Butterflies in Your Stomach?

Turns out that nervous tickling sensation has a scientific explanation.

You Don't Weigh the Same Everywhere on Earth

When you step on your scale in your house, you see a number. Whether you like it or not, that’s your weight on Earth, right? Wrong! Read on to learn more about how your weight can change depending on your location on the planet.

The Benham's Disk Illusion Makes You See Imaginary Colors

The somewhat mysterious black-and-white visual illusion tricks your eyes into seeing color. Learn more at Discovery.com.

Things That Make You Go Boom: The Explosion Show

Science Channel is set to ring-in the New Year with a BANG!

Tracking Hurricane Dorian: Here's Everything You Need to Know

Here is what you need to know about the tropical cyclone making its way to the U.S. mainland.

This Is Why Your Eyes Get Puffy When You Cry

Your eyes puff up due to the process of osmosis.