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Tetanus: Make Sure Your Family Is Protected

Family's feet on grass

Make sure your family is up to date with their tetanus vaccine so they have protection against this serious infection. Spores of tetanus bacteria are everywhere in the environment.

Summertime means family cookouts, long days playing outside, and unfortunately the cuts and scrapes that often come with outdoor fun. Spores of tetanus bacteria are commonly found in soil and can enter the body through these breaks in the skin. Inside the body, the spores become active bacteria and make a toxin (poison) that causes painful muscle stiffness.

Tetanus infection can lead to serious health problems and even death. Make sure everyone in your family is up to date with their tetanus vaccine.

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 and adults.
  • Td: tetanus and diphtheria vaccine for older children and adults.

See the vaccine information statements (VIS).

CDC Recommends Tetanus Vaccines for People of All Ages

There are several vaccines that protect against tetanus. Since protection from tetanus decreases over time, CDC recommends tetanus vaccines for people of all ages.

The DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis or whooping cough) vaccine is highly effective in preventing tetanus in young children. CDC recommends DTaP shots for babies at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, and again at 15 through 18 months old. CDC recommends a DTaP booster for children ages 4 through 6 years old.

CDC recommends that all preteens and teens get a Tdap vaccine, preferably at 11 or 12 years old. Tdap contains a full dose of tetanus and lower doses of diphtheria and pertussis vaccine.

Adults need to get a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years to stay protected. CDC recommends one dose of Tdap for adults who didn’t get it as a preteen or teen. The easiest thing for adults to do is to get Tdap instead of their next regular Td booster. However, the dose of Tdap can be given earlier than the 10-year mark. Talk to a doctor to learn about what’s best for your specific situation.

Tetanus vaccines are safe. Most people who get a tetanus vaccine do not have any serious problems with it. However, side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild, meaning they do not affect daily activities. See the vaccine information statement for each vaccine to learn more about the most common side effects.

Stay Up to Date with Your Family’s Vaccinations

Make sure everyone in your family has protection 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.

Tetanus Can Cause Difficulty Swallowing and Breathing

Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria. Inside the body, the bacteria 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 tighten. This can make 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. People with tetanus often have to spend several weeks in the hospital under intensive care. Complete recovery can take months. If left untreated, tetanus can be deadly.

People Get Tetanus through Breaks in the Skin

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