Tetanus: Protect Your Family with Vaccines

Family's feet on grass

Tetanus is an uncommon but very serious disease caused by spores of bacteria found in the environment. Make sure your family is up to date with their tetanus vaccine so they can enjoy being outdoors safely.

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.

CDC Recommends Tetanus Vaccines for People of All Ages

Several vaccines protect against tetanus, all of which also protect against other diseases.

The vaccine called DTaP helps protect young children from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis or whooping cough. CDC recommends a DTaP shot for babies at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, and again at 15 through 18 months old. CDC also   recommends a booster shot for children ages 4 through 6 years old.

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 the vaccine information statements (VIS) for each vaccine.

The vaccine called Tdap also helps protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. CDC recommends that all preteens and teens get a Tdap vaccine, preferably at 11 or 12 years old.

Adults need to get a Td booster shot every 10 years to stay protected. This vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria. CDC also recommends one dose of Tdap for adults who have never received it. 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. The toxin causes your muscles to tighten and cramp painfully and causes seizures. 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. The muscle spasms and seizures can be strong enough to break bones. Muscle spasms can also cause breathing problems. 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.