At Rite Aid, we're committed to keeping you well. It's also our job to keep you informed. Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria that can be found almost everywhere, which enters the body through cuts or wounds. The most common symptom of tetanus is painful tightening of the muscles, usually all over the body. It can lead to "locking" of the jaw, which makes it difficult to open the mouth or swallow. Tetanus leads to death in up to 2 cases out of 10.
The tetanus vaccine is only found in combination with other vaccines. It is available with the diphtheria and pertussis vaccines in two formulations – the Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis vaccine (DTaP) and the Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis vaccine (Tdap). It is also available with the diphtheria vaccine alone in two formulations - the Tetanus and Diphtheria vaccine (Td) and the Diphtheria and Tetanus vaccine (DT).
How does Tetanus spread?
Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani. Tetanus bacteria can be found everywhere in the environment, including manure, soil and dust. The bacteria get into the body through broken skin from injuries by contaminated objects. Areas in the skin that are more likely to get infected with tetanus bacteria are:
- Wounds contaminated with spit (saliva), dirt or feces
- Wounds caused by an object puncturing the skin, like a needle or nail (puncture wounds)
- Crush injuries
- Injuries with dead tissue
The time from exposure to illness is usually 3–21 days (average 10 days), but it can range from one day to several months. The majority of cases occur within 14 days. Shorter incubation periods are common with heavily contaminated wounds, more severe disease, or a worse disease prognosis.
What are the symptoms of Tetanus?
Tetanus is often called "lockjaw" because the person cannot open his/her mouth due to the jaw muscles tightening.
Other symptoms include:
- Jaw cramping
- Sudden, involuntary muscle spasms
- Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
- Trouble swallowing
- Fever and sweating
- High blood pressure and fast heart rate
What are the treatments for tetanus?
Doctors can diagnose tetanus by examining the patient and looking for certain signs and symptoms. There are no specific lab tests that can confirm tetanus.
Tetanus is considered a medical emergency that requires:
- Immediate treatment with human tetanus immune globulin (TIG) (or equine antitoxin)
- Tetanus vaccine
- Drugs to control muscle spasms
- Aggressive wound care
A machine to help you breathe may be required depending on how severe the infection is.
How is Tetanus prevented?
The best tool to prevent tetanus is being fully immunized. Tetanus vaccines are recommended for everyone at any age, with booster shots throughout life.
Immediate and proper wound care can also help prevent infection. If you get a tetanus infection, you can still get it again in the future if you're not protected by a timely vaccination.
What is the tetanus vaccine?
Four combination vaccines used to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis are: DTaP, Tdap, DT, and Td. DTaP and DT are given to children younger than seven years of age, and Tdap and Td are given to adults and older children.
It is recommended that children get five doses of DTaP, one dose at each of the following ages: 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months and 4-6 years. DT does not contain pertussis, and is a substitute for DTaP among children who cannot tolerate the pertussis vaccine.
Td is a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine given to adults and adolescents every 10 years, or after an exposure to tetanus. Tdap is similar to Td but also contains protection against pertussis. Adults 19 and older and adolescents 11-18 years of age (preferably at age 11-12 years) should receive a single dose of Tdap. Women should receive Tdap during each of their pregnancies in the third trimester between the 27th and 36th week. Tdap should also be given to 7-10 year olds who have not been immunized against pertussis. Tdap can be given no matter when Td was last received.