Tetanus is a disease caused by a
bacterial infection. The bacteria make a toxin, or
poison, that causes severe muscle spasms. Tetanus can be very dangerous, but
you can get a shot to prevent it. Tetanus is also called "lockjaw" because
muscle spasms in your jaw make it hard to open your mouth. Tetanus also causes
seizures and makes it hard for you to swallow or
For parents, childhood vaccines are a source of reassurance -- protecting your child against disease naturally helps you sleep better at night -- but also anxiety about side effects and reactions.
With misinformation about vaccines and health problems, it can be difficult for a parent to sort it all out.
For help, WebMD turned to the CDC's Frank DeStefano, MD, MPH, director of its immunization safety office.
In the United States, most
people have had shots to prevent tetanus, so the disease is relatively rare.
People who have never been immunized or haven't had a booster in the last 10
years are more likely to get tetanus. This includes people who recently moved
to the U.S. from countries where tetanus shots are rare.
How can you prevent tetanus?
You can prevent tetanus by getting
all of your recommended
immunizations (shots). There are three different
combination immunizations that include a vaccine for tetanus.
Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)(What is a PDF document?): Tdap is the first booster shot for tetanus and is
recommended at age 11 or 12. It's also recommended for all teens and adults who never had the Tdap shot.
If you never had tetanus shots as a child, or if
you're not sure if you had them, you'll need to get 3 tetanus shots in about a
1-year time span. After that, 1 booster shot every 10 years will work for
Get a tetanus shot as soon as possible if you have a dirty cut
or wound and 5 or more years have passed since your last tetanus shot. Some
people may need tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG) for a wound that is at high risk
for tetanus. The
immunoglobulin is usually only needed if you have not
(or do not know whether you have) completed the tetanus shot series.
What causes tetanus?
that cause tetanus are called Clostridium tetani. They
are usually found in dirt and soil, most often in areas with animal waste such
as farms and ranches. These bacteria typically enter the body through a wound, cut, or splinter. They can also enter the body through an unclean injection, such as when a person injects an illegal drug.
The bacteria grow best when they are not around oxygen. The deeper and narrower
the wound, the less oxygen there is around it, so
tetanus is more likely. For example, the bacteria can
thrive in a puncture wound from a dirty nail. The dirtier the wound, the higher
the risk of getting tetanus. But tetanus can also grow in a clean wound.