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Tetanus: Make Sure Your Family Is Fully Immunized

Three people's feet in grassMake sure your family is up to date with their tetanus vaccine so they are protected against this serious infection commonly known as "lockjaw." The bacteria that cause tetanus can be found everywhere in the environment.

Summertime often means family cookouts, long days playing outside, and unfortunately the cuts and scrapes that often come with outdoor fun. Bacteria, including the ones that cause tetanus, are commonly found in soil and can enter the body through these breaks in the skin. Make sure your family is protected by being up to date with their tetanus vaccine.

Tetanus Vaccine Protection

There are several vaccines that protect against tetanus.

Tetanus Vaccines

DTaP: diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine for children younger than age 7

Tdap: tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccine for older children and adults

Td: tetanus and diphtheria vaccine for older children and adults

See vaccine information statements (VIS).

The DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine is highly effective in preventing tetanus in young children. DTaP shots are recommended for babies at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, and again at 15 through 18 months of age. A DTaP booster is recommended for children ages 4 through 6 years.

Because our protection from tetanus decreases over time, older children need to get the Tdap vaccine. This booster shot contains a full dose of tetanus and lower doses of diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. The Tdap vaccine is recommended for all 11 through 18 year olds, preferably at age 11 or 12 years.

After getting the Tdap vaccine as a preteen or teen, adults need to get a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years to stay protected. For adults who didn't get Tdap as a preteen or teen, the easiest thing to do is to get Tdap instead of their next regular Td booster. The dose of Tdap can be given earlier than the 10-year mark, so it's a good idea for adults to talk to a doctor about what's best for their specific situation.

Tetanus vaccines are safe, but side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild or moderate, meaning they do not affect daily activities. See the vaccine information statements for each vaccine to learn more about the most common side effects.

Stay Up to Date with Your Family's Vaccinations

Photo: A family outside.Make sure your family is protected against tetanus by

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccinations, but you may want to check with your insurance provider before going to the doctor. If you don't have insurance or if it does not cover vaccines, your child may be eligible for vaccines through the Vaccines for Children program.

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a toxin, or poison, that causes your muscles to tighten and cramp painfully. Tetanus infection mainly affects the neck, chest, and stomach. Tetanus is also called "lockjaw" because it often causes a person's neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. It can also cause breathing problems, severe muscle spasms, and seizures. The muscle spasms can be strong enough to break your bones, and you might have to spend several weeks in the hospital under intensive care. Complete recovery can take months. If left untreated, tetanus can be deadly.

How is Tetanus Spread?

Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases in that it does not spread from person to person. Instead, the bacteria are usually found in soil, dust and manure, and enter the body through breaks in the skin — usually cuts or puncture wounds.


Last syndicated: July 29, 2014
This content is brought to you by: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)