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Tetanus and the Vaccine (Shot) to Prevent It

Doctor examining infant

Doctors recommend that your child get five doses of the DTaP vaccine for best protection. Your child will need one dose at each of the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months, and
  • 4 through 6 years of age.

Fact Sheet for Parents

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Español: Tétano

The best way to protect against tetanus is by getting the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shot (also called the DTap shot). Doctors recommend that all children get the vaccine.

Why should my child get the DTaP shot?

The DTaP shot:

  • Protects your child from tetanus, a potentially serious disease (and also protects against diphtheria and whooping cough)
  • Protects your child from painful muscle stiffness from tetanus
  • Keeps your child from missing school or childcare (and keeps you from missing work to care for your sick child)

Is the DTaP shot safe?

Yes. The DTaP shot is very safe, and it is effective at preventing tetanus. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Most children who get the shot have no side effects.

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What are the side effects?

Most children don’t have any side effects from the shot. When side effects do occur, they are usually mild and may include:

  • Redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

These types of side effects happen in about 1 child out of every 4 children who get the shot.

More serious side effects are very rare but can include:

  • A fever over 105 degrees
  • Nonstop crying for 3 hours or more
  • Seizures (jerking or twitching of the muscles or staring)

Booster vaccines needed to keep up protection from tetanus

The DTaP does not offer lifetime protection. People need booster vaccines to keep up protection from tetanus.

Children should get a booster vaccine called Tdap (which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough) at 11 or 12 years of age.

Adults need a booster called the Td vaccine (for tetanus and diphtheria) every 10 years. Adults should also receive a one-time shot of the Tdap vaccine in place of one Td shot.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by a toxin (poison) made by bacteria. It causes painful muscle stiffness and can be deadly.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Tetanus in children starts with headache, jaw cramping, and muscle spasms (sudden, involuntary muscle tightening).

It also causes the following:

  • Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Seizures (jerking or staring)
  • Fever and sweating
  • High blood pressure and fast heart rate

Tetanus is often called “lockjaw” because the jaw muscles tighten, and the person cannot open his mouth.

Is it serious?

Tetanus is very dangerous. It can cause breathing problems, muscle spasms, and paralysis (unable to move parts of the body). Muscle spasms can be strong enough to break a child’s spine or other bones.

It can take months to recover fully from tetanus. A child might need weeks of hospital care. As many as 1 out of 5 people who get tetanus dies.

How could my child get tetanus?

The bacteria that cause tetanus are found in soil. They get into the body through a puncture, cut, or sore of the skin. A person can also be infected after a burn or an animal bite.

Tetanus does not spread from one person to another.

Where can I learn more about the DTaP shot and my child?

To learn more about the DTaP shot, talk to your child’s doctor, call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit the CDC Vaccines for Parents site.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend all children receive their vaccines according to the recommended schedule.

Fact Sheets for Parents
Diseases and the Vaccines that Prevent Them

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