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Bottle of Behring's original tetanus serum and packet, c 1915.

© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

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German profesor Emil von Behring (1854-1917) devised vaccines against diptheria and tetanus in 1890. A serum can be used to treat the disease or to act as a short lived protection against it. Tetanus, or 'lockjaw', is the result of a neurotoxin produced by the widespread bacterium 'clostridium tetani' when it is allowed to multiply in conditions where there is little or no oxygen, such as in deep puncture wounds. The tetanus vaccine is a form of active immunisation, meaning that the body is stimulated to produce its own defences, in the form of antibodies or, in this case, antitoxin.
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