Bacterial infections

How To Know If You Need A Tetanus Shot

Nidhi Nangia
By Nidhi Nangia. Updated: June 11, 2020
How To Know If You Need A Tetanus Shot

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. This bacterium is found in soil, manure and dust. It can enter your body when your skin is broken, such as with a cut, burn, scrape or puncture. Once inside your body, it produces toxins which affect the nervous system and lead to muscle spasms and seizures. In some cases, tetanus may also lead to respiratory failure which can cause death. Tetanus is non-communicable and does not spread from one person to the other. The majority of tetanus cases take place because the person was not vaccinated. Vaccination is very important for tetanus, because this disease is incurable and the bacterium is resistant to heat and most chemicals and medicines. So, this oneHOWTO article will tell you how to know if you need a tetanus shot.

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  1. Info about tetanus injections
  2. Recommended tetanus vaccination schedule
  3. Signs that you should get a tetanus shot
  4. Look out for developing symptoms
  5. Treatment for tetanus

Info about tetanus injections

The tetanus injection is a toxoid which means that it provides protection against the toxins produced by bacteria in the body. After being developed during the 1920s, tetanus shots became a routine part of childhood immunization from the Second World War onwards. The vaccine is proven to be almost 100% effective in keeping tetanus at bay.

Children receive immunization from tetanus in the form of the DTP vaccine. This single vaccine also provides protection against pertussis and diphtheria. Teens and preteens receive DTP vaccine which provides continued protection from tetanus. Adults receive Td booster every 10 years to stay protected against both diphtheria and tetanus. The tetanus vaccine can be given with the diphtheria vaccine in both pediatric and adult formulations.

Recommended tetanus vaccination schedule

Infants receive the DTP vaccine in four scheduled doses at 2, 4, 6 and 15 months of age. Then they receive another dose at 4 years. A single DTP dose is also recommended for kids at 11 years of age during a regular checkup. Because antitoxin levels gradually decrease over time, booster vaccines along with tetanus-diphtheria toxoid are given every 10 years. Adults and adolescents receive tetanus-diphtheria injection as a booster every 10 years.

They may also receive it after a presumed exposure to tetanus bacterium in some cases. If you received your last tetanus jab more than 10 years ago, then talk to your doctor about your immunization update. You should also receive a booster vaccine if you sustained a deep wound and more than 5 years have passed since your last dose. A series of three vaccines will be recommended if you did not receive DTP during your childhood.

How To Know If You Need A Tetanus Shot - Recommended tetanus vaccination schedule

Signs that you should get a tetanus shot

Here are a few instances when receiving a tetanus shot becomes necessary. Remember, tetanus is incurable and the vaccine is your best solution to stay protected:

If you receive any of these types of injuries

A tetanus booster shot should be given after certain types of injuries. Usually, the toxin creating bacterium enters your body through broken skin and causes havoc. If you receive any of these types of injuries, you should consider receiving a tetanus shot:

  • Any wound in which you can see dust, soil, horse manure or other contaminated elements
  • Puncture wound caused by wood splinters, needles, nails, animal or human bites, glass etc.
  • Second or third degree skin burns
  • Crush injury which damages tissue when it gets squeezed between two weighty objects
  • Wound involving dead or necrotic tissue. Such a wound has a lack of blood supply, making it susceptible to infection. For instance, gangrenous areas have increased risk of developing infection
  • Wound that has foreign objects in it such as splinters, gravel, glass shards, etc.

If it’s time for a booster

You need to know when it’s time to take your tetanus shot. If you did not receive any tetanus shot or you do not remember when you took it last, then it’s time to go for a tetanus shot. If you are injured, you must be wondering whether you should go for a tetanus jab or not. You will need it if:

  • The object that injured you was clean, but more than 10 years have passed since you received your last shot
  • The object that injured you was dirty, and it’s been more than 5 years you received your last shot
  • You are not sure whether the object was dirty or clean and you received your last shot more than 5 years ago

If you are pregnant

Getting a tetanus vaccine is very important during pregnancy. You receive it between 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy, as it transfers antibodies of tetanus to your fetus and keeps it protected. Inactivated TDaP is given during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy. If your doctor did not give you this vaccine during pregnancy, then you should get it immediately after childbirth. If you receive a wound during pregnancy, then you should immediately contact your doctor to get a booster shot.

If you are at increased risk

Nearly all tetanus cases occur in people who did not get any tetanus vaccine or in adults who do not stay updated with their 10-year schedule of vaccination. Chances of developing tetanus are highest in people who did not get their vaccination on time or their immunization was inadequate. You may also have increased risk of developing tetanus if your area recently underwent a natural disaster, especially in an underdeveloped or developing country.

How to minimize the risk of tetanus

As soon as you get a wound or injury, clean it and disinfect it. If you do not disinfect it within 4 hours of receiving it, you maximize your chances of developing a tetanus infection. This becomes even more important if your wound was caused by a dirty object and it punctured your skin. This forces debris and bacteria to enter inside your wound, making it the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Pay attention to whether the object that injured you was dirty or clean. If it had dirt, soil, manure, feces or saliva on it, then you need to rush to get your tetanus shot. However, you can’t just look at the object and tell whether it has bacteria on it or not.

Look out for developing symptoms

You may start developing symptoms after 3 days of receiving the wound, however you may only feel ill after 8 days. The severity of tetanus is graded on a scale of I to IV. The longer it takes for symptoms to start showing, the milder the infection. Common symptoms include neck stiffness, lockjaw, difficulty swallowing and rigid abdominal muscles. Some patients also develop fever, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure and sweating. Some possible complications include:

  • Spasm of the vocal cords making it difficult to breathe
  • Bone fracture
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Secondary infection like pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Blood clotting in lungs

Treatment for tetanus

If you develop any of the above symptoms of tetanus, you should immediately seek medical attention. You may be hospitalized and given antitoxin to neutralize any toxins that have not yet bound to nervous tissues in your body. No blood tests can diagnose tetanus, because of which most physicians do not wait and watch. They instead go for aggressive treatment immediately. Since tetanus cannot be cured, treatment is usually directed towards managing symptoms and related complications. Intravenous or oral antibiotics are given for controlling the symptoms. Some medicines include sedatives and benzodiazepines. Antibiotics may not treat tetanus, but keep reproduction of bacteria under control.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to How To Know If You Need A Tetanus Shot, we recommend you visit our Diseases & secondary effects category.

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How To Know If You Need A Tetanus Shot