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Protect Yourself from Tetanus

Apr 07, 2019

Tetanus is dangerous. It’s also preventable.

Tetanus is an infection caused by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. This infection is unique in that it cannot be spread from person to person. This type of infection occurs when the bacterium enters the body from a break in the skin — typically cuts or puncture wounds caused by objects that are contaminated with the bacteria.

This type of bacteria is found in contaminated dirt, feces and saliva.

Tetanus is sometimes called “lockjaw” because a telltale sign of the disease is when the jaw tightens and cannot release. As a result, it is impossible to open the mouth or swallow.

This is considered a medical emergency, meaning treatment in a hospital is required.

Other symptoms include muscle spasms, painful muscle stiffness and headaches. This illness can become evident between three and 21 days after a person has been infected. In some cases, it may take up to several months to become evident. This will depend on the kind of wound.

Tetanus can result in complications like broken bones, blockage of arteries by blood clots, pneumonia and difficulty breathing.

Treatment includes supportive treatment. This means the goal is to keep the patient stable while the body fights off the bacteria.

In some cases, a machine to help the patient breathe may be needed.

Being up to date with the tetanus vaccine is the best possible prevention. The good news is that the tetanus vaccine is given with other vaccines in one shot. You can get protection against diphtheria and whooping cough (otherwise known as pertussis) at the same time:

  • A vaccine that protects against diphtheria and tetanus is called DT or Td.
  • A vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough is DTaP or Tdap.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that babies and kids younger than 7 years old get the DTaP or DT vaccine. For older children and adults, the CDC recommends Tdap or Td.

Protection from tetanus does not last a lifetime. Experts recommend getting vaccines on a schedule to make sure your body has the highest possible level of protection against this serious condition:

  • For babies, three doses of DTaP are recommended at certain ages.
  • For adolescents, the recommendation is one dose of Tdap between the ages of 11 and 12 to boost their immunity.
  • For adults, one dose of Td is recommended every 10 years.
  • For women who are pregnant, Tdap is recommended during the third trimester of every pregnancy.

If you have never received this vaccine before, please let your doctor or pharmacist know. They will determine the best plan for you. If you are not sure whether you have received this vaccine in the past, your doctor or pharmacist can help determine the best option for you.

The tetanus shot is safe. Arm soreness is the most common side effect.

If you have a deep or dirty wound and you haven't had a tetanus booster shot in five years or do not remember if you did, seek medical attention.

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