Your Health: Do You Need a Tetanus Shot?

What do splinters, animal scratches and burns that break the skin have in common? 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 under 65: Get a one-time Tdap if you’ve never had one.


An adult of any age: Get a booster called Td at least every 10 years.


A pregnant woman: Ask your doctor about getting a Td booster—or a Tdap if you’ve never had one—after your 20th week of pregnancy. It can help protect your baby from whooping cough, which is especially dangerous for newborns.


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.




American College of Emergency Physicians

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Immunization Action Coalition



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Stacy Madden