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About Tetanus for Adults


Common first signs of tetanus include muscular stiffness in 
the jaw (lockjaw) followed by stiffness of the neck, 
difficulty in swallowing, rigidity of abdominal muscles, 
generalized spasms, sweating and fever.   

Symptoms usually begin 7 days after bacteria enter the 
body through a wound, but this incubation period may 
range from 3 days to 3 weeks. 

Tetanus Shots for Adults

Most people think tetanus is caused by stepping on a rusty nail or receiv-ing a serious puncture wound. But in reality, tetanus bacteria is everywhere,
especially in dirt, dust and manure, and it can enter the body through a tiny
pinprick, scratch from an animal, splinters, bug bites and burns that break
the skin.
A tetanus infection can be deadly. As many as 40 percent of people who
get a tetanus infection die from it. The disease affects the nervous system
and can result in spasms strong enough to break bones.
One condition that often happens with tetanus is a spasm and tight-ening of the mouth that causes the jaw to stiffen, also called
lock jaw. Tetanus infection also can cause the muscles
of the diaphragm to spasm and tighten, making it
difficult to breathe. The disease can lead to
dangerously high blood pressure, breath-ing failure and pneumonia that can result
in coma or death.
More adults are taking the threat
of tetanus lightly — because vac-cination is almost 100 percent
effective — however, it is impor-tant to have your tetanus

Tetanus Shots

Most people received a
series of tetanus vaccinations
when they were children. It is
administered in children usually
in combination with vaccines
against other illnesses such as
pertussis (whooping cough) and
Tetanus shots generally are required
for children before starting school. Five
doses of vaccine are recommended before
the age of 6. After the initial series of immu-nizations, a booster of tetanus and diphtheria vac-cine (referred to as Td) should be given at 11-12 years
of age and every 10 years after that.

When Should I Get a Tetanus Booster?

• If it has been more than 10 years since you had a tetanus shot. For most
adults, the protection from a tetanus shot falls off with time.
• If you’re 50 years and older. According to the CDC, a number of people
in this age group didn’t receive their first tetanus shots during childhood. If
you are in this age group and haven’t had these shots, you should start with a series of three Td shots.
• If you are unsure or have no records of receiving the first series of
tetanus shots or boosters as a child.
• If you’re traveling to a country with hot, damp climates and soil that con-tains a lot of organic matter.
• If you’re an agricultural worker, or if you work with dirt and manure.
• If your job or activities cause a lot of cuts and scrapes on your skin.
• If you’re recovering from tetanus infection. Having a case of tetanus
does not mean you cannot get it again.
• Pregnant women who have not been immunized and
haven’t received a recent booster or may deliver in an
unhygienic place. When you are immunized, anti-bodies that fight the disease are passed from you
to your fetus. (Please consult your healthcare
provider, especially if you are in the first
trimester of pregnancy.)
• If you are hurt and require emer-gency tetanus treatment

Are There Side Effects?

You probably will be sore for a
day or two near the spot of the
vaccination. You also might expe-rience some redness and
swelling where the shot was
given for 1-2 days.
You can treat these symptoms
by taking a non-aspirin pain
reliever, such as acetaminophen or
It’s very rare you would have a
serious allergic reaction from the Td
vaccine, but if you experience a deep,
aching pain and loss of muscle in your
upper arm(s) that starts 2 days to 4 weeks
after you get the shot, contact your healthcare
provider right away


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