Tetanus

[tet-n-uh s]

Hand with IV

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.

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Key Facts

  • Some people call tetanus “lockjaw” as it can cause neck & jaw muscles to tighten making it hard to open the mouth or swallow.
  • CDC recommends tetanus vaccination for people of all ages.
  • Tetanus does not spread from person to person.
  • Spores of tetanus bacteria are commonly found in soil, dust, & manure & can enter the body through breaks in the skin.
  • Tetanus infection can lead to serious health problems and even death.

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Couple hiking barefoot through stream

Contracting Tetanus

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.

Band-Aid on arm

Vaccines for Tetanus

Several vaccines protect against tetanus. Since protection from tetanus decreases over time, CDC recommends tetanus vaccines for people of all ages. CDC recommends DTaP shots for babies at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, and again at 15 through 18 months old. Children need a DTaP booster at ages 4 through 6 years. 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.

Smiling baby with mother and doctor

Vaccination

Tetanus vaccines are safe. Most people who get a tetanus vaccine do not have serious problems with it. However, side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild, meaning they do not affect daily activities.

Female doctor and female patient

Protecting Yourself and Your Family

Keep track of vaccines you receive and check your child’s vaccination records. Contact your or your child’s doctor if you aren’t sure which vaccines your family has received. Follow CDC’s immunization schedule.

Prevention Tips

  • Stay up to date on your vaccines.
    Since protection from tetanus decreases over time, CDC recommends tetanus vaccines for people of all ages.
  • Don’t delay first aid of even minor, non-infected wounds like blisters, scrapes, or any break in the skin.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
    Use an alcohol-based hand rub if washing is not possible.
  • Consult your doctor if you have concerns and need further advice.

More at CDC.gov

Page last reviewed: July 31, 2019