Disease & Vaccine Information

Tetanus Vaccine and Disease Information

Get the Information You Need to Make an Informed Decision
Updated June 07, 2024


Below are brief introductions to tetanus disease and the tetanus vaccine with links to more information. Scroll down for a list of QUICK FACTS that provide a summary overview of key facts for the disease and the vaccine.

Tetanus: The Disease

Tetanus (lockjaw) disease is caused by Clostridium tetani (C. tetani), an anerobic, gram-positive, bacteria that can develop into a spore. Tetanus spores can be found in soil, manure, and 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 exposure to the appearance of the initial 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 treatment, and death. Learn more about Tetanus

Tetanus Vaccine

In the U.S. today, tetanus vaccine is available in combination with other vaccines. There are 10 different tetanus-containing vaccines available for use in the U.S. with differing use rules based on age groups. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently recommends children receive 5 doses of tetanus-containing vaccines between two months of age and 12 years of age and a dose every ten years thereafter throughout adulthood.  In an effort to reduce pertussis rates in infants, the CDC also recommends a dose of the tetanus-containing vaccine Tdap during each pregnancy, regardless of a previous history of Tdap vaccine.  Learn more about Tetanus vaccine

Tetanus Disease & Vaccine Quick Facts


  • Since the early 1900s, reported tetanus deaths dramatically declined prior to the introduction of vaccines in the late 1940s. Factors contributing to the decline include improvements in wound care, use of tetanus immune globulin (TIG), and decreases in exposure due to population movement from rural to urban environments. 

  • 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.  Rarely, it can also occur following abortions, elective surgeries, ear infections, pregnancy, dental infections, animal bites, and crush wounds. Continue reading quick facts

Tetanus Vaccine

  • According to the CDC, common tetanus vaccine reactions include injection-site redness, pain, and swelling at the site of the injection. However, if the pain and swelling is significant and extends from the shoulder to the elbow, the CDC warns that additional tetanus toxoid vaccination should not be more frequent than every 10 years.  Additional serious reported side effects following tetanus toxoid vaccination include anaphylaxis,    brachial neuritis,  Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS),    acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM),  arthritis    and myocarditis. 

  • The CDC reports that a single dose of tetanus toxoid will likely not protect a person from developing tetanus but that three tetanus toxoid vaccine doses should induce vaccine acquired blood antibody levels considered to be protective against tetanus disease in nearly all individuals. Vaccine acquired tetanus blood antibody levels, however, decrease with time and within 10 years, most individuals may only have blood antibody levels considered minimally protective against tetanus disease. Testing of antibodies in the blood can demonstrate the presence of an immune response to a particular pathogen such as tetanus, but it does not determine the level of protection that a person might have or how long protection might last. Continue reading quick facts

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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