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Tetanus disease & vaccine quick facts
- 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.
- Tetanus bacteria do not survive in the presence of oxygen, however, the bacteria 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.
- Between 2009 and 2015, there were 197 reported cases of tetanus and 16 tetanus related deaths. All reported deaths occurred in persons over the age 55. During this time period, persons with diabetes accounted for 13 percent of all reported tetanus cases and 25 percent of all tetanus related deaths. Intravenous drug users accounted for 6 percent of all cases.
- In 2015, there were 29 tetanus cases reported with two related deaths. Neonatal death from tetanus, which primarily occurs in underdeveloped countries where newborns are exposed to tetanus for unsanitary conditions during the birth process, especially when the umbilical cord is cut, is virtually nonexistent in the U.S.
- 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 four 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 two 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.
- As of September 1, 2023, there had been 6,610 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following vaccination with tetanus or tetanus-containing vaccines combined with additional vaccines, including 877 deaths and 5,733 serious injuries.
- Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of August 31, 2023, there have been 204,987 adverse events reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) in connection with tetanus and tetanus-containing vaccines combined with additional vaccines since 1990. Over 60 percent of tetanus vaccine-related adverse events occurring in children six years old and under. Of these tetanus-vaccine related adverse event reports to VAERS, 3,183 were deaths, with over 86 percent of the deaths occurring in children under six years of age. Reported tetanus vaccine adverse events reported to VAERS include redness, swelling and pain at the injection site; headache; fatigue, sore and swollen joints; muscle weakness; fever; chills; nausea; shock; neuropathy; convulsions; encephalopathy; paralysis; Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS); death;
NVIC “Quick Facts” is not a substitute for becoming fully informed about Tetanus and the Tetanus vaccine. NVIC recommends consumers read the more complete information following the "Quick Facts", as well as the vaccine manufacturer product information inserts, and speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
- Infanrix, a 3 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria, tetanus toxoids, and acellular pertussis vaccine for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
- Daptacel, a 3 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd.
- Pediarix, a 5 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, hepatitis B recombinant and inactivated poliovirus vaccines for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
- Kinrix, a 4 in 1 combination vaccine containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids, acellular pertussis and inactivated poliovirus vaccines for children 4 to 6 years old. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
- Quadracel, a 4 in 1 combination vaccine containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoid, acellular pertussis and inactivated poliovirus vaccine for children 4 to 6 years old. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur
- Pentacel, a 5 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, inactivated poliovirus and Haemophilus b conjugate (tetanus toxoid conjugate) vaccines for children under four years old. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd.
- VAXELIS, a 6 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, inactivated Poliovirus, Haemophilus b Conjugate (Meningococcal Protein Conjugate) and Hepatitis B (Recombinant) Vaccine for children 6 weeks through 4 years of age. It is manufactured by MCM Vaccine Company
- Diphtheria and Tetanus Toxoids Adsorbed, a 2 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoid vaccine for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc
- Adacel, a 3 in 1 combination booster shot containing tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine for those 10 years or older. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd.
- Boostrix, a 3 in 1 combination booster shot containing tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine for those 10 years or older. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
- TDVAX, a 2 in 1 combination vaccine containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid for those 7 years of age and older. It is manufactured by MassBiologics.
- TENIVAC, a 2 in 1 combination vaccine containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid for those 7 years of age and older. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- CDC on Tetanus
- CDC on Tetanus Vaccine
- Tetanus, Diphtheria (Td) Vaccine Information Statement
- Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (TDaP) Vaccine Information Statement
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (DTaP) Vaccine Information Statement
- Your Child's First Vaccines Vaccine Information Statement
National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients
Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more.
Search for Vaccine Reactions
NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.
Reporting a Vaccine Reaction
Since 1982 NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Tetanus and the Tetanus vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , 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.