Do you need a tetanus shot?

March 2, 2017

What do splinters, animal scratches and burns that break the skin have in common?iStock-618633024.jpg

Besides causing pain, they put people at risk of being infected with tetanus.

This dangerous disease is caused by bacteria found in soil almost everywhere. And it can enter the body through injuries as small as a pinprick.

Sometimes called lockjaw because it causes jaw muscles to seize up, tetanus can require weeks of hospitalization. In about 1 of every 10 cases, it's fatal. But protecting yourself from tetanus is easy: Update your vaccination.

Kids start building immunity to tetanus at 2 months old, when they typically get the first in a series of DTaP shots that also protect against diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). As preteens, they get a Tdap booster—a full dose of the tetanus vaccine with lower doses of the diphtheria and pertussis vaccines.

But immunity to tetanus decreases over time. That's why all adults need booster shots. If you are:

  • An adult of any age. Get a booster called Td at least every 10 years. You also need a Tdap booster if you're 19 or older and didn't get the Tdap as a child.
  • A pregnant woman. If you never had the initial tetanus vaccines as a child, you need a series of three tetanus shots. And even if you were vaccinated as a child, you still need a dose of Tdap during the third trimester of every pregnancy. The vaccine will help protect your baby from pertussis while he or she is a newborn.

Check your immunization records, and get a tetanus booster shot if it's time. And if you ever get a deep, dirty wound, rinse it in water only and see a doctor immediately.

Sources: American College of Emergency Physicians; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Immunization Action Coalition

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