Tetanus shot

How can I prevent tetanus?

Tetanus (lockjaw) infections are very rare in the United States and Canada. You can help prevent tetanus by having all of the suggested tetanus shots (immunizations). There are three different types of tetanus shots.

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) (What is a PDF document?) . This vaccine is given in a series of five shots starting at age 2 months and ending between ages 4 and 6 years. This is called the primary vaccination series.
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) (What is a PDF document?) . This is the first booster shot for tetanus and is suggested for children ages 11 to 12 years who have had the DTaP vaccination series. Teens ages 13 to 18 who haven't had the shot should get it as soon as possible. Adults ages 19 to 64 should have one dose of this booster shot instead of Td (tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine to prevent whooping cough (pertussis).
  • Td (tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine (What is a PDF document?) . This vaccine is given as a booster shot every 10 years.

Why is it important to prevent tetanus?

Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The tetanus bacteria get in a wound through a break in the skin or mucous membrane. A cut, puncture wound, deep scrape, deep burn, or any injury that breaks the skin or mucous membrane are called wounds.

The bacteria make a toxin, or poison, that causes severe muscle spasms and seizures. Tetanus is also called "lockjaw" because muscle spasms in your jaw make it hard to open your mouth. This makes it hard to swallow or breathe. Tetanus can be very dangerous and can cause death. The best way to prevent the disease is to have a tetanus shot if you need one.

How can I tell if I need a tetanus shot?

To decide if you need a tetanus shot, first decide if the object that caused the wound was dirty or clean. An object is dirty if it has dirt, soil, spit, or feces on it. A clean object does not have dirt, soil, spit, or feces on it.

You will need a tetanus shot if:

  • Your wound was caused by something that was clean and your last tetanus shot was longer than 10 years ago.
  • Your wound was caused by something that was dirty and your last tetanus shot was longer than 5 years ago.
  • You are not sure if your wound was caused by something clean or dirty and your last tetanus shot was longer than 5 years ago.
  • You are not sure when you had your last tetanus shot.
  • You did not get the first series of tetanus shots (primary vaccination series).

If you need a tetanus shot, call your doctor to arrange for a shot.

Some people may need tetanus immune globulin (IG) for a wound that is at high risk for developing tetanus. The immune globulin is usually only needed if you have not (or do not know if you have) completed the tetanus primary vaccination series.

What should I do if I have a reaction to a tetanus shot?

If you have a reaction to a tetanus shot, your symptoms may include warmth, swelling, redness at the site where the shot was given or a fever.

Home treatment can help reduce the discomfort.

Talk to your doctor before you give medicine to reduce a fever in a baby who is 3 months of age or younger. This is to make sure a young baby's fever is not a sign of a serious illness. The exception is if your baby has just had an immunization. Fevers sometimes occur as a reaction to immunizations. After immunizations, you can give your baby medicine to reduce a fever.

Last Updated: June 10, 2008

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