Tetanus Symptoms Cause and Vaccination

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Medically Reviewed byHansa D. Bhargava, MD

Tetanus Vaccine Types and Schedules

Who Should Get the Tetanus Vaccine?

Who Should Not Get the Tetanus Vaccine?

Tetanus Vaccine Risks and Side Effects

The tetanus vaccine is part of the recommended series of childhood and adultimmunizations. It protects against the bacterial infection tetanus, also known as lockjaw.

Tetanuscauses painfulmuscle spasmsand can lead to death. The tetanus vaccine has made tetanus a preventable disease. Thanks to its widespread use, lockjaw has become very rare in the U.S. Even so, adults need to be vaccinated against it. Theres no cure and 10% to 20% of people who have it die.

You cant get tetanus from another person. You can get it through a cut or other wound. Tetanus bacteria are common in soil, dust, and manure. The tetanus bacteria can infect a person even through a tiny scratch. But youre more likely to get tetanus through deep punctures from wounds created by nails or knives. The bacteria travel viabloodor nerves to the centralnervous system.

Tetanus symptoms result from a toxin produced by tetanus bacteria. Symptoms often begin around a week after a person is infected. But this may range from 3 days to 3 weeks or even longer. The most common symptom is a stiff jaw, which can become locked. This is how the disease came to be called lockjaw.

Muscle stiffness, starting in the jaw, then the neck and the arms, legs, orabdomen

Muscle spasms in the face, causing a strange-looking steady smile or grin

If not treated, tetanus can cause death from suffocation.

You normally get tetanus shots in the deltoid (shoulder) muscle. Children get it in the arm or thigh. Four different kinds ofvaccinesprotect against tetanus and other diseases. The one you get is based on your age and vaccine status.

is given to babies and young children. It protects againstdiphtheria, tetanus, andpertussis(whooping cough).

is for babies and young children whove had a bad reaction to the whooping cough vaccine. It only protects against diphtheria and tetanus.

is given to older children and adults. It protects against diphtheria, tetanus. and pertussis.

is the booster shot for older children and adults that only protects against diphtheria and tetanus.

Children typically get five doses of the DTaP or DT vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years. Then comes one dose of Tdap between the ages of 11 and 12, and a Td booster every 10 years.

If you didnt get a tetanus vaccine as a child, you should start with a three-dose primary series with one dose of Tdap and two doses of Td. You get thesevaccinesover a period of seven to 12 months. After receiving the primary series, youll need a Td booster every 10 years.

An additional dose of Tdap is recommended for women in the third trimester of eachpregnancyto protect their babies until theyre old enough for their own vaccines.

You should have a tetanus shot if you:

Did not get a primary series of tetanus shots as a child

Have not had a tetanus booster in the last 10 years

Who Should Not Get the Tetanus Vaccine?

You shouldnt get a Tdap vaccine if you have had asevere allergic reactionafter a previous Tdap vaccine. You also shouldnt get a Tdap vaccine if you have a history ofcomaorseizureswithin a week following a previous Tdap vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you have a history ofepilepsyor other nervous system problems, severe pain or swelling in the past after a previous tetanus vaccine, or a history of eitherGuillain-Barre syndrome or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.

Wait to get the Tdap vaccine if you have a moderate to severe acute illness.

The vaccines are made up of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis toxins that have been made nontoxic but they still have the ability to create an immune response. These vaccines do not contain live bacteria.

Its important to know that, in general, the risk of problems from getting tetanus is much greater than from getting a tetanus vaccine. You cannot get tetanus from the tetanus shot. However, sometimes the tetanus vaccine can cause mild side effects. These may include:

Very occasionally, small children may have more serious side effects from the DTap vaccine, such as:

Asevere allergic reaction(anaphylaxis) is also very rare, but can happen within minutes of being vaccinated. Symptoms may include:

Trouble breathingor other respiratory symptoms

Nausea,vomiting,diarrhea, or abdominal cramping

Dizziness,low blood pressure, a fast heartbeat

If you have any signs of a severe reaction:

Call 911 or get to a hospital right away.

Describe when you had the vaccine and what happened.

Have ahealth careprofessional report the reaction.

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: Facts About Tetanus for Adults and Tetanus.

Immunization Action Coalition: Tetanus Vaccine.

CDC: Tetanus and Pertussis Vaccination Coverage among Adults Aged 18 Years and Older – United States, 1999 and 2008, Preventing Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis Among Adults: Use of Tetanus Toxoid, Reduced Diphtheria Toxoid and Acellular Pertussis Vaccine, Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary, Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know, and Possible Side effects from Vaccines.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Tetanus (Lockjaw).

World Health Organization: Anaphylaxis.

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