Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that affects your nervous system, causing muscles throughout your body to stiffen. It particularly leads to muscle contractions in the jaw and neck, hence why it is also known as lockjaw. Tetanus can also cause breathing difficulties and even become life-threatening.
As there is no cure for tetanus, treatment focuses on managing symptoms instead. However, the condition is preventable through vaccination, but only if you continue to receive booster shots on schedule.
What Are Tetanus Booster Shots?
Booster shots are repeat doses of a vaccine that you receive periodically following your first series of immunizations as a child. For some vaccines, protection begins to wear off with time hence the need for boosters.
Most tetanus cases occur in people who have never had the tetanus vaccine or who haven’t kept up with their booster shots. It is, therefore, crucial to stay up to date with all your vaccinations, especially if you live or are traveling in a region where tetanus is common.
What You Need to Know About Tetanus
Tetanus is caused by spores of a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. These sporesexist in soil, dust, animal feces, and on the surfaces of rusty tools like nails and barbed wire. As they are highly resistant to harsh environmental conditions, such as heat, the spores can survive for years.
A person develops tetanus when these spores enter the bloodstream through a cut or deep wound. The spores produce a toxin called tetanospasmin, which blocks the nerve signals from your brain and spinal cord to your muscles, causing muscle spasms and stiffness.
Tetanus is not contagious, meaning you cannot catch it from another person. Anyone can get the disease. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), tetanus is particularly common and severe in newborn babies and inadequately vaccinated pregnant women.
Maternal tetanus is tetanus occurring during pregnancy or within six weeks of the end of pregnancy (birth, miscarriage, or abortion). Whereas, neonatal tetanus is tetanus that affects newborns within the first 28 days of life.
Tetanus can develop from:
- Puncture wounds, e.g., body piercings, tattoos, and injection drug use
- Crush injuries
- Surgical wounds
- Compound fractures
- Dental infections
- Animal bites
- Insect bites
- Infected umbilical stumps in newborns of inadequately vaccinated mothers
Tetanus has an average incubation period of 7 to 10 days after infection. However, this can vary from 3 to 21 days. The common symptoms of tetanus are:
- Muscle spasms and stiffness especially in the jaw, neck, abdomen, back, and limb muscles
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful body spasms triggered by occurrences such as sudden noises and physical touch
Other possible tetanus symptoms may include fever, sweating, high blood pressure, and fast heart rate.
Tetanus treatment typically involves wound care, medications (e.g., antibiotics, antitoxin, sedatives, and vaccine), and supportive therapies. If you have trouble breathing, you may need a ventilator.
Note: Recovering from tetanus does not give you a natural immunity; there’s still a risk for recurrence hence the need for active immunization.
You can easily prevent tetanus by getting vaccinated. The various types of vaccines that protect against tetanus also protect against other diseases such as whooping cough and diphtheria. They include:
Diphtheria and tetanus (DT) vaccines
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) (DTaP) vaccines
- Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccines
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccines
Immunization Schedule and Booster Recommendations
The protective effects of the tetanus vaccine do not last forever. So following the initial series of doses, it’s recommended to receive booster shots.
Tetanus vaccine schedule: primary dose series
Children should receive multiple rounds of the DTap vaccine for protection against diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus. The recommended ages for children receiving the shots are:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15 to 18 months
- 4 to 6 years
It is recommended for adolescents between the ages of 11 and 12 to get a Tdap booster shot, then a Td booster every 10 years after that.
If you’ve never received a dose of Tdap or were never vaccinated against tetanus as a child, visit your doctor for a Tdap vaccination and follow this up with Td boosters every ten years.
Tetanus Booster Shot Cost
According to CostHelper, the cost of a Td booster for patients without insurance ranges from $25 to $60. The charges usually cover the cost of the vaccine and the administration fee.
If your health insurance plan covers preventive services, it will often include Td booster shots. However, you may have a copay of $10 to $40 for the doctor visit and vaccination.
If you have never received a dose of Tdap, it’s advisable to replace one Td booster with a Tdap shot before continuing with Td boosters. As a result, you will incur additional costs since a Tdap shot is slightly more expensive. On MDsave, for instance, the cost of a Tdap vaccine ranges from $75 to $180.
Tetanus Shots Side Effects
Tetanus vaccines are safe. And booster shots are especially recommended if you have a tetanus-prone wound or cut. Possible reactions to the vaccine may include swelling, soreness, and redness at the injection site. These may last 1 to 2 days after vaccination. You may also experience fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle soreness.
So in general, it is much safer to get the vaccine than to get tetanus, which may lead to complications such as:
- Pulmonary embolism, i.e., a condition where a blood clot blocks one or more arteries in the lungs
- Severe kidney failure
- Brain damage
Where to Get a Tetanus Shot
The tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG) given at a hospital when you have a wound likely to develop tetanus does not provide long-term protection against tetanus.
For continued protection against the disease, you should ensure your vaccinations are up to date. Fortunately, getting vaccinated is convenient.
You can get your recommended vaccinations and booster shots at your doctor’s office. Additionally, pharmacies, health centers, health departments, and travel clinics offer vaccination services.References ⌵
- World Health Organization, Tetanus, May 2018.
- Mayoclinic staff, tetanus symptoms and causes, Feb, 2019.
- Hassel B. Tetanus: pathophysiology, treatment, and the possibility of using botulinum toxin against tetanus-induced rigidity and spasms. Toxins (Basel). 2013;5(1):73–83. Published 2013 Jan 8. doi:10.3390/toxins5010073.
- Adam F. Everything you need to know about tetanus, December 2017.