Disease & Vaccine Information

Tetanus Vaccine and Disease Information

Get the Information You Need to Make an Informed Decision
Updated August 15, 2022


tetanus

Tetanus: The Disease

Tetanus (lockjaw) disease is caused by Clostridium tetani (C. tetani), an anerobic, gram-positive, bacteria with the ability to develop into a spore. Tetanus spores can be found in soil, manure, and in the digestive tracts of animals and humans. Additionally, tetanus has also been reportedly found in contaminated heroin and on skin surfaces.   Tetanus bacteria do not survive in the presence of oxygen, however, are quite resistant to most chemicals and even heat.  Puncture wounds, which do not bleed very much and are protected by tissue and skin from direct exposure to oxygen, can be the perfect environment for tetanus bacteria to multiply and cause infection. 

The incubation period for tetanus infection, from time of exposure to appearance of the first symptoms, ranges from three days to three weeks.  Initial symptoms include muscular stiffness of the jaw and neck, headache, seizures, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, fever, and chills. Complications include fractures, vocal cord spasms, impaired breathing, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, infections acquired in the hospital during the course of treatment, and death.  Learn more about Tetanus

Tetanus Vaccine

In the U.S. today, tetanus vaccine is administered only in a combination shot (DTaP, DT, Tdap, Td) that contains vaccines for tetanus (T), diphtheria (D) and possibly pertussis (whooping cough) (P). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved twelve different combination vaccines that include tetanus toxoid vaccine. There are different rules for use of these vaccines by different aged groups. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) currently recommends administration of a tetanus containing vaccine (DTaP) at two, four, and six months old; between 15 and 18 months old; and between four and six years old. Another booster dose is recommended at 11-12 years of age (Tdap).

After a booster dose of Tdap vaccine, booster doses with tetanus - diphtheria toxoid vaccine (Td) are recommended every ten years throughout a person’s life.   While the ACIP also recommends that pregnant women receive a dose of Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy, between 27 and 36 weeks gestation, regardless of a previous history of Tdap vaccine,  this recommendation contradicts the information provided by the vaccine manufacturers. Learn more about Tetanus vaccine

Tetanus Quick Facts

Tetanus

  • Tetanus, often referred to as lockjaw, is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria and can be found in soil, manure, and even in the digestive tracts of animals and humans. Tetanus has also been reported in contaminated heroin as well as on skin surfaces.  Tetanus is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person.  Tetanus bacteria can enter the body when a person sustains a deep cut, or even a burn  and can also occur following abortions, elective surgeries, ear infections, pregnancy, dental infections, animal bites, and crush wounds. 
  • The incubation period for tetanus infection, from time of exposure to appearance of the first symptoms, ranges from three days to three weeks.  Initial symptoms include muscular stiffness of the jaw and neck, headache, seizures, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, fever, and chills. Complications include fractures, vocal cord spasms, impaired breathing, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, infections acquired in the hospital during the course of treatment, and death.  Continue reading quick facts

Tetanus Vaccine

  • There are 12 different tetanus-containing vaccines licensed for use in the United States with 8 tetanus combination vaccines available for use in infants and children. These combination vaccines may contain one or more of the following vaccines: pertussis, diphtheria, hepatitis B, Hib, polio, and/ or polio. For adults, there are 4 tetanus combination vaccines available with 2 vaccines containing both tetanus and diphtheria toxoids approved for use in adults and children ages 7 years and older and 2 vaccines containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis approved for use in children and adults ages 10 years and older. 
  • According to the CDC, common tetanus vaccine reactions include injection-site redness, pain, and swelling at the site of the injection. Sometimes, however, the pain and swelling is significant and extends from the shoulder to the elbow. If this occurs, the CDC warns that additional tetanus toxoid vaccine doses should not be administered more frequently than every 10 years.  Additional serious reported side effects following tetanus toxoid vaccination include anaphylaxis,    brachial neuritis,  Guillain-Barre Syndrome,    acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM),  arthritis  and myocarditis.  Continue reading quick facts

Learn More About Tetanus and Tetanus Vaccine

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NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Tetanus and the Tetanus vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents below, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.


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