Tetanus: Make Sure You and Your Child Are Fully Immunized
Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a toxin, or poison, that causes painful muscle contractions. Tetanus infection mainly affects the neck and abdomen. 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. Complete recovery can take months. If left untreated, tetanus can be fatal.
Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases in that it does not spread from person to person. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust and manure and enter the body through breaks in the skin – usually cuts or puncture wounds. The bacteria can then produce a toxin that spreads through the body causing the painful symptoms of tetanus. About 3 weeks after exposure, you might get a headache, and have spasms in the jaw muscles. 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.
Tetanus Vaccine Protection
DTaP: pediatric 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
The DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) 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 immunity to 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). The Tdap vaccine is recommended for all 11 through 18 year olds, preferably given to preteens going to the doctor for a regular check-up at age 11 or 12 years.
Adults need to get a booster shot every 10 years to stay protected since immunity to tetanus decreases over time. For adults who haven't gotten Tdap yet, the easiest thing to do is to get Tdap instead of their next regular tetanus (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. Make sure you and your child are protected against tetanus.
Is Your Child Up to Date on Vaccinations?
- Check your child's vaccination records,
- Contact your child's doctor,
- See these easy-to-read versions of the childhood immunization schedules:
Paying for the DTaP and Tdap Vaccines
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 is eligible for vaccines through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program.
The VFC Program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to recommended childhood vaccines. This federal program provides vaccines for eligible children at no cost for the vaccine itself, although an administration fee may apply. These fees help providers cover the costs of giving the vaccines, including storing the vaccines and paying staff members to give vaccines to patients.
Children younger than 19 years of age are eligible for VFC vaccines if they are:
- American Indian or Alaska Native
- Underinsured and vaccinated in Federally Qualified Health Centers or Rural Health Clinics.
A child that meets one or more of the above eligibility requirements is eligible to receive VFC vaccine. VFC vaccines cannot be denied to an eligible child if a family can't afford the administration fee.
- Tetanus disease
- About Tetanus
- Tetanus (lockjaw) vaccination
- Tetanus - fact sheet for parents
- Tétano - información para los padres
- To learn more about the VFC program, see the Vaccines for Children Program Q&As.
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