How often do you need a tetanus shot?

Updated March 21, 2017

Tetanus is a bacterial disease that can be extremely difficult and time-consuming to treat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the morbidity rate for tetanus--also called "lockjaw"--can be between 10 to 20 per cent, with the highest incidence of death occurring in the elderly. Tetanus shots are usually given to children in conjunction with other routine vaccinations, but if you're an adult, you need to be aware of when you need a tetanus booster.

Tetanus Overview

Tetanus or lockjaw is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria that is found in soil, dust and the faeces of animals. The bacteria enter the human body through open wounds. It releases a virulent toxin that affects the nerves, resulting in characteristic symptoms of tetanus. The jaw muscles become stiff or "lock," which can affect the patient's ability to swallow. Spasms also can occur in the jaw, neck and even the chest, abdomen and back. Spasms that affect the respiratory muscles can make it difficult for patients to breathe. Because tetanus can result in death even with treatment, the best way to avoid it is to receive the tetanus shot or make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.

Tetatus Shots: Children

According to the CDC, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that children receive five doses of a combination vaccination that includes protection against tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis. The Tdap vaccine should be given to children at 2 months of age, 4 months of age, 6 months of age, 15 to 18 months of age, and finally, between 4 and 6 years of age.

Tetanus Shots: Adults

Adults should not assume that the tetanus shot they received as part of other vaccinations during childhood will protect them against tetanus forever. If it's been more than 10 years since you've received a tetanus shot, it's time for another booster shot. However, if you never received a tetanus shot as a child, it will be delivered in a series of three injections. When immunisation records are unavailable, most adults will receive the Tdap vaccine; those over the age of 64 will receive the Td vaccine, which protects against tetanus and diphtheria only.

Who Should Get Tetanus Shots?

According to the CDC, everyone should keep current when it comes to getting tetanus shots. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you obtain a booster if you have a deep wound and haven't had the shot in the past five years or if you're not sure if you've been vaccinated against tetanus.

Side-Effects of the Tetanus Shot

Serious side-effects rarely occur after a tetanus shot, although they are more pronounced in children, especially after the fourth and fifth DTaP shot. Around one of four children experience fever and inflammation and tenderness at the injection site. According to the CDC, severe allergic reactions to a typhoid shot occur in less than one in a million doses.

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About the Author

Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She's worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.