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
DT: pediatric diphtheria and tetanus vaccine, used as a substitute for children who cannot tolerate pertussis vaccine
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 vaccines, 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, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program may be able to help.
The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides vaccines at no cost to doctors who serve eligible children. Children younger than 19 years of age are eligible for VFC vaccines if they are Medicaid-eligible, American Indian, Alaska Native, or have no health insurance. "Underinsured" children who have health insurance that does not cover vaccination can receive VFC vaccines through Federally Qualified Health Centers or Rural Health Centers. Parents of uninsured or underinsured children who receive vaccines through the VFC program should check with their doctors about possible administration fees that might apply. These fees help doctors cover the costs that result from important services like storing the vaccines and paying staff members to give vaccines to patients. However, VFC vaccines cannot be denied to an eligible child if a family can't afford the fee.
To learn more about the VFC program, visit the VFC Web site or ask your child's doctor.
- 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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