Skip to content

Children's Vaccines Health Center

Font Size

Tetanus - Topic Overview

What is tetanus?

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 breathe.

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.

Recommended Related to Children's Vaccines

Understanding Tetanus -- Diagnosis and Treatment

Tetanus can start from an injury such as a scratch, a cut or a bite from an animal or another person. The organism particularly lives in soil or fecal matter. It may take anywhere between one day to three weeks for symptoms to develop. Some affected people may experience only pain and tingling at the wound site and some spasms in muscles near the injury site to start with. As things progress, there can be stiffness of the jaw (called lockjaw) and neck muscles, irritability, and difficulty swallowing...

Read the Understanding Tetanus -- Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

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.

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 you.

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.

    1|2|3
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Baby getting vaccinated
    Is there a link? Get the facts.
    syringes and graph illustration
    Get a customized vaccine schedule.
     
    baby getting a vaccine
    Know the benefits and the risk
    nurse holding syringe in front of girl
    Should your child have it?
     

    What To Know About The HPV Vaccine
    Article
    24 Kid Illnesses Parents Should Know
    Slideshow
     
    Nausea and Vomiting Remedies Slideshow
    Article
    Managing Immunization Schedules For Kids
    Video
     

    Doctor administering vaccine to toddler
    Video
    gloved hand holding syringe
    Article
     
    infant receiving injection
    Tool
    pills
    Quiz
     

    WebMD Special Sections