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Tetanus is an uncommon but very dangerous disease — of every 10 people who get it, as many as 2 will die. Thanks in part to tetanus vaccines, deaths from tetanus in the United States have dropped by 99% since 1947.
There are 4 vaccines that include protection against tetanus:
Because of the vaccines, tetanus is rare — but people still get the disease. When they do, the complications can be serious and even deadly. People who get it can have trouble breathing and painful muscle spasms that are strong enough to break bones. Tetanus can also cause paralysis (not being able to move).
There’s no cure for tetanus. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent tetanus.
Tetanus is caused by a type of bacteria. You may have heard tetanus called “lockjaw” — that’s because one of the most common signs is painful tightening in the jaw muscles that can make it hard to open the mouth, breathe, or swallow.
Other symptoms of tetanus can include:
Tetanus isn’t contagious — it doesn’t pass from person to person, like through touching or kissing. The bacteria that cause tetanus can be in dirt, dust, and poop. Usually, the bacteria enter the body through broken skin, like:
Everyone needs tetanus vaccines throughout their lives. That means everyone needs to get vaccinated as babies, children, and adults.
Young children need the DTaP vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule. Young children need a dose of the vaccine at:
If your child has had a serious reaction to the whooping cough part of the DTaP vaccine, they may be able to get the DT vaccine instead. Your child’s doctor can recommend the vaccine that’s right for your child.
Older children need 1 booster shot of the Tdap vaccine at age 11 or 12 as part of their routine vaccine schedule.
If your child misses the booster shot, talk with your child’s doctor about catching up.
Adults need 1 booster shot of the Td vaccine every 10 years as part of their routine vaccine schedule. If you get a deep cut or a burn, you may need the booster earlier — especially if the cut or burn is dirty.
If you missed the Tdap booster as a teen, you’ll need to get a Tdap booster instead to make sure you have protection from whooping cough.
Pregnant women need 1 booster shot of the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy.
Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from tetanus.
You should not get a tetanus vaccine if you:
Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:
If you’re sick, you may need to wait until you’re feeling better to get a tetanus vaccine.
Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:
It’s very rare, but the DTaP vaccine can cause the following symptoms in children:
Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that tetanus vaccines could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting a tetanus vaccine is much safer than getting tetanus. Learn more about vaccine side effects.
Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against tetanus:
Last reviewed: January 2018