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BackgroundIntramuscular antitoxin is recommended in tetanus treatment, but there are few data comparing human and equine preparations. Tetanus toxin acts within the CNS, where there is limited penetration of peripherally administered antitoxin; thus, intrathecal antitoxin administration might improve clinical outcomes compared with intramuscular injection.MethodsIn a 2  × 2 factorial trial, all patients aged 16 years or older with a clinical diagnosis of generalised tetanus admitted to the intensive care unit of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, were eligible for study entry. Participants were randomly assigned first to 3000 IU human or 21 000 U equine intramuscular antitoxin, then to either 500 IU intrathecal human antitoxin or sham procedure. Interventions were delivered by independent clinicians, with attending clinicians and study staff masked to treatment allocations. The primary outcome was requirement for mechanical ventilation. The analysis was done in the intention-to-treat population. The study is registered at, NCT02999815; recruitment is completed.Findings272 adults were randomly assigned to interventions between Jan 8, 2017, and Sept 29, 2019, and followed up until May, 2020. In the intrathecal allocation, 136 individuals were randomly assigned to sham procedure and 136 to antitoxin; in the intramuscular allocation, 109 individuals were randomly assigned to equine antitoxin and 109 to human antitoxin. 54 patients received antitoxin at a previous hospital, excluding them from the intramuscular antitoxin groups. Mechanical ventilation was given to 56 (43%) of 130 patients allocated to intrathecal antitoxin and 65 (50%) of 131 allocated to sham procedure (relative risk [RR] 0·87, 95% CI 0·66-1·13; p=0·29). For the intramuscular allocation, 48 (45%) of 107 patients allocated to human antitoxin received mechanical ventilation compared with 48 (44%) of 108 patients allocated to equine antitoxin (RR 1·01, 95% CI 0·75-1·36, p=0·95). No clinically relevant difference in adverse events was reported. 22 (16%) of 136 individuals allocated to the intrathecal group and 22 (11%) of 136 allocated to the sham procedure experienced adverse events related or possibly related to the intervention. 16 (15%) of 108 individuals allocated to equine intramuscular antitoxin and 17 (16%) of 109 allocated to human antitoxin experienced adverse events related or possibly related to the intervention. There were no intervention-related deaths.InterpretationWe found no advantage of intramuscular human antitoxin over intramuscular equine antitoxin in tetanus treatment. Intrathecal antitoxin administration was safe, but did not provide overall benefit in addition to intramuscular antitoxin administration.FundingThe Wellcome Trust.

Original publication





The Lancet. Global health

Publication Date





e862 - e872


Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.


Animals, Horses, Humans, Tetanus, Antitoxins, Treatment Outcome, Injections, Intramuscular, Intensive Care Units