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Preventing Tetanus Infections - Topic Overview

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.

What should I do if I have a reaction to a tetanus shot?

If you have a reaction to a tetanus shot, your symptoms may include warmth, swelling, redness at the site where the shot was given or a fever.

Home treatment can help reduce the discomfort.

  • Take an over-the-counter medicine for pain and fever, such as acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Because of the risk for Reye syndrome, do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
  • Put an ice pack on the area where the shot was given for 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day for the first 24 to 48 hours. After 48 hours, heat may feel better.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 14, 2013
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.
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