Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Vaccines Health Center

Font Size

Preventing Tetanus Infections - Topic Overview

How can I prevent tetanus?

You can help prevent tetanus by having all of the suggested tetanus shots (immunizations). There are three different types of tetanus shots.

Why is it important to prevent tetanus?

Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The tetanus bacteria get in a wound through a break in the skin or mucous membrane. A cut, puncture wound, deep scrape, deep burn, or any injury that breaks the skin or mucous membrane are called wounds.

The bacteria make a toxin, or poison, that causes severe muscle spasms and seizures. Tetanus is also called "lockjaw" because muscle spasms in your jaw make it hard to open your mouth. This makes it hard to swallow or breathe. Tetanus can be very dangerous and can cause death. The best way to prevent the disease is to have a tetanus shot.

How can I tell if I need a tetanus shot?

To decide if you need a tetanus shot after a wound, first decide if the object that caused the wound was dirty or clean. An object is dirty if it has dirt, soil, spit, or feces on it. A clean object does not have dirt, soil, spit, or feces on it.

You will need a tetanus shot if:

  • Your wound was caused by something that was clean and your last tetanus shot was longer than 10 years ago.
  • Your wound was caused by something that was dirty and your last tetanus shot was longer than 5 years ago.
  • You are not sure if your wound was caused by something clean or dirty and your last tetanus shot was longer than 5 years ago.
  • You are not sure when you had your last tetanus shot.
  • You did not get the first series of tetanus shots (primary vaccination series).

If you need a tetanus shot, call your doctor to arrange for a shot.

Some people may need tetanus immunoglobulin (IG) for a wound that is at high risk for developing tetanus. The immunoglobulin is usually only needed if you have not (or do not know if you have) completed the tetanus primary vaccination series.

1|2

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 20, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Preventing Tetanus Infections Topics

Today on WebMD

woman receiving vaccine shot
ARTICLE
Syringes and graph illustration
TOOL
 
Ways To Stay Well When Traveling Abroad
SLIDESHOW
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
Slideshow
 
woman walking
Article
Vaccine Schedule Are Your Childs Shots Up To Date
Article
 
69x75 thumbnail early pregnancy 02
VIDEO
gloved hand holding syringe
Article
 
adult vaccine injection
ARTICLE
woman peeking under sheets
Tool
 
cold season and vitamin C
VIDEO
Adult Meningitis Vaccines What You Should Know
ARTICLE