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tetanus immunisation

Alternative Names 
Td booster, tetanus vaccination, tetanus booster

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious infection caused by bacteria. These bacteria, Clostridium tetani, are found in soil, dust and manure. A tetanus vaccine is an injection that helps the body make antibodies to fight tetanus infection. A tetanus booster is an injection given after a first series of injections to continue protecting against tetanus.

What is the information for this topic? 
The bacteria that cause tetanus enter the body through a break in the skin. These breaks may be burns, puncture wounds, or deep cuts. The wound may be caused by stepping on a rusty nail, being cut by a dirty knife, or even tiny pinpricks or scratches. When the bacteria enters the body it produces a toxin. The toxin attacks nerves that control the muscles. It may produce symptoms such as:
  • headache
  • stiffness in the jaw and in the muscles
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fever
  • fast pulse
  • excessive sweating
  • irritability
  • spasms of the jaw, neck, abdomen and back
  • painful convulsions or muscle spasms that affect breathing, possibly leading to death
The death rate from tetanus is about 50%. But early diagnosis and treatment usually lead to full recovery. Symptoms usually appear within 8 to 12 days after infection. If muscle spasms occur early in the disease, recovery is rare.

Since tetanus is a very serious and deadly disease, tetanus vaccines and boosters are strongly recommended. The schedule for the tetanus vaccines and boosters is:
  • The vaccine is given along with other childhood vaccines. It is combined with the diphtheria and pertussis vaccine for early childhood immunisation (DPT) and is usually only combined with diphtheria (ADT) or given by itself (Tetox) in adulthood. The DPT vaccine is given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. Boosters are given at 18 months, 5 years, and aftre 10 years of age. The immunisation schedule is constantly changing and it is wise to discuss with your doctor what the current regime is.
  • A booster tetanus injection is recommended every 10 years, throughout life. Usually it is combined with the diphtheria booster.
  • A person who gets a deep puncture wound more than 5 years after the last tetanus booster may be advised to get a tetanus booster.
Most people do not have problems with the ATD vaccine. When side effects do occur, they are usually mild. Side effects may include redness, swelling, and discomfort at the site of the injection. The minor discomfort from the injection is nothing compared to the effects of tetanus.

Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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