How to Know When You Need a Tetanus Shot


needle shot vaccine immunizationTetanus is a disease caused by Clostridium tetani, a type of bacteria found worldwide in dust, soil and manure. The bacteria enter the body through a wound, which may include a cut, puncture wound, deep scrape or burn, or any injury that breaks the skin. They produce a toxin that affects the nervous system and causes seizures and severe muscle spasms. In an estimated 10-20% of cases, tetanus spasms cause respiratory failure or other health complications that lead to death.

Tetanus cannot be spread from one person to another. Nearly all tetanus cases occur in people who have not been vaccinated, or in adults who have not received a 10-year booster tetanus shot.

Tetanus Vaccine

Tetanus vaccination is included as part of the U.S. Recommended Immunization Schedule for children. Infants and children receive the DTaP vaccine, a combination vaccine that immunizes against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Preteens and teens should receive the tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine, which is a booster shot that provides continued protection against tetanus. During adulthood, a tetanus-diphtheria booster (Td) is recommended every 10 years for protection against both tetanus and diphtheria.

When to Seek Medical Care

You should seek immediate medical care if you experience any of the following:

  • A wound that is deep, such as a knife wound or animal bite.
  • A wound that contains dirt or a foreign object.
  • You have a wound and have not been fully vaccinated against tetanus, or you’re unsure whether you have been fully vaccinated against tetanus.
  • You have a wound and haven’t received a tetanus booster in the last 10 years.

Note that you should seek immediate medical attention if you have a deep or dirty wound, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated against tetanus. In emergency cases, a healthcare provider can administer medication that contains antibodies that kill the tetanus bacteria.

To get up-to-date on your tetanus vaccination, visit your nearest RediClinic health clinic. We offer a complete range of tetanus shots to immunize individuals age 18 months and older.