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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 -- Prevention

Because established tetanus is often fatal, even with expert treatment, prevention is of paramount importance. The two major means of preventing tetanus are immunization and wound care. There are two types of immunization for any disease -- active and passive. Active immunization is when vaccines are given to a person so that the immune system can make antibodies to kill the infecting germ. In the U.S., health officials recommend active immunization of infants and children with DTaP -- diphtheria,...

Read the Understanding Tetanus -- Prevention 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.

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