Skip to content

    Vaccines Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Tetanus Vaccine: Questions and Answers

    Often called lockjaw, tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes painful muscle spasms and can lead to death. The tetanus vaccine has made tetanus a preventable disease. Thanks to its widespread use, lockjaw has become very rare in the U.S. Even so, many adults in the U.S. need to be vaccinated against tetanus because there is no cure and 10% to 20% of victims will die.

    You cannot get tetanus from another person. You can get it through a cut or other wound. Tetanus bacteria are commonly present in soil, dust, and manure. The tetanus bacteria can infect a person even through a tiny scratch. But you are more likely to get tetanus through deep punctures from wounds created by nails or knives. The bacteria travel via blood or nerves to the central nervous system.

    Did You Know?

    Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.

    Health Insurance Center

    What are the symptoms of tetanus?

    Tetanus symptoms result from a toxin produced by tetanus bacteria. Symptoms often begin around a week after infection. But this may range from three days to three weeks or even longer. The most common symptom is a stiff jaw, which can become "locked." This is how the disease came to be called lockjaw.

    Symptoms of tetanus may include:

    • Headache
    • Muscle stiffness, starting in the jaw, then the neck and the arms, legs, or abdomen
    • Trouble swallowing
    • Restlessness and irritability
    • Sweating and fever
    • Palpitations and high blood pressure
    • Muscle spasms in the face, causing a strange-looking steady smile or grin

    If not treated, tetanus can cause death from suffocation.

    How and when should you receive the tetanus vaccine?

    You normally receive tetanus shots in the deltoid (shoulder) muscle. If you did not receive a tetanus vaccine as a child, you should start with a three-dose primary series with the first dose being a three-in-one combination called Tdap that protects against tetanus, diphtheria (Td) and pertussis (whooping cough). The other two doses are a dual vaccine (Td) cover tetanus and diphtheria. You receive these vaccines over a period of seven to 12 months. Vaccination against pertussis is especially important for those in direct contact with young infants or patients.

    After receiving the primary series, get a Td booster every 10 years.

    Today on WebMD

    passport, pills and vaccine
    25 ways to protect yourself from illness.
    syringes and graph illustration
    Create a personalized schedule.
     
    flu shot signage
    Get answers to your questions
    gloved hand holding syringe
    Which ones do you need?
     
    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