Tetanus and the Vaccine (Shot) to Prevent It

Tetanus

How to pronounce Tetanus: [per-tuhs-is] or Listenmedia icon

Five doses of the DTaP shot and a Tdap booster shot are recommended by doctors as the best way to protect against tetanus.

When should my child get the tetanus shot?

5 doses of DTaP vaccine and 1 booster dose of Tdap at the following ages:

Why should my child get a tetanus shot?

  • Protects your child from tetanus, a potentially serious disease, as well as diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis).
  • Protects your child from painful muscle stiffness from tetanus.
  • Keeps your child from missing school or child care and you from missing work.

What vaccines protect against tetanus?

  • There are 2 vaccines that include protection against tetanus:
    • The DTaP vaccine protects young children from diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough
    • The Tdap vaccine protects preteens, teens, pregnant women, and adults from tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough

Tetanus shots are safe.

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The tetanus shots are very safe, and are effective at preventing tetanus. Vaccines like any medicine, can have side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own.

What are the side effects?

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

  • Redness, swelling, or pain where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

These types of side effects happen in about 1 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, twitching of the muscles, or staring)

Some preteens and teens might faint after getting the Tdap vaccine or any other shot.

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To prevent fainting and injuries related to fainting: adolescents should be seated or lying down during vaccination and remain in that position for 15 minutes after the vaccine is given.

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Prepare for your child's vaccine visit and learn about how you can:

  • Research vaccines and ready your child before the visit
  • Comfort your child during the appointment
  • Care for your child after the shot
Before, During, and After Shots

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Front view of young man holding his cheek in pain.

The first sign is most commonly spasms of the muscles of the jaw, or “lockjaw”.

  • Jaw cramping
  • Sudden, involuntary muscle tightening (muscle spasms) – often in the stomach
  • Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Jerking or staring (seizures)
  • Headache
  • Fever and sweating
  • Changes in blood pressure and fast heart rate

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.

When the tetanus bacteria invade the body, they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is “lockjaw”. It often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow.

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?

Woman holding her foot.

Stepping on nails or other sharp objects is one way people are exposed to the bacteria that cause tetanus. These bacteria are in the environment and get into the body through breaks in the skin.

Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases because it does not spread from person to person.

Tetanus bacteria are found in soil, dust, and manure. It gets into the body through

  • a puncture, cut, or sore on the skin
  • after a burn, or
  • an animal bite

Follow the vaccine schedule

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

Page last reviewed: August 2, 2019