Home Health A-Z How Often Do You Need to Get a Tetanus Shot?

How Often Do You Need to Get a Tetanus Shot?

Verified By Dr T Anusha September 28, 2020 5868 0

The tetanus vaccine is a part of the vaccine series for a child and adult immunization that provides protection against the bacterial infection tetanus also referred to as “lockjaw.” Tetanus is caused by a bacterial toxin that attacks the nervous system, causing painful muscle contractions, usually around the neck and jaw muscles.

You can get tetanus  by a cut or other wound. The tetanus bacteria are common in soil, dust, and manure. You could also contract tetanus through deep punctures from wounds created by contaminated nails or knives. 

Fortunately, because of the tetanus vaccine, the cases of a tetanus infection have been reduced globally, although it is still common in developing countries.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

The symptoms of tetanus can appear anytime from a few days to several weeks after you have been infected by the tetanus bacteria. The average incubation period ranges from 7 to 10 days.

The symptoms occur because of the toxin produced by the tetanus bacteria. The most common symptom is a stiff jaw that can often get locked, because of which it came to be known as lockjaw.

Some of the commonly observed symptoms include –

  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Stiffness of the muscles in the arms, legs, neck, abdomen, and jaw
  • Fever and sweating
  • Increased blood pressure and palpitations
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Headache
  • Muscle spasms causing a strange-looking grin or smile

If not treated at the right time, a tetanus infection can lead to death from suffocation.

Complications of Tetanus include:


As soon as the tetanus toxin bonds to your nerve endings, it is impossible to get it remove. Complete recovery from a tetanus infection needs new nerve endings to grow that may take up to several months.

Tetanus infection complications may include:

  • Broken bones: The severity of spasms may lead to the breaking of the bones and the spine
  • Pulmonary embolism (blockage of a lung artery) 
  • Death: Severe tetanus-induced (tetanic) muscle spasms may either interfere with or stop your breathing. Lack of oxygen can also induce cardiac arrest and death.

 What causes tetanus?

Tetanus is a result of the toxin produced by spores of the Clostridium tetani bacteria found in dust, animal feces, and soil. When these spores enter deep into a flesh wound, they transform into bacteria which releases a deadly toxin called tetanospasmin.

The muscles, i.e., motor neurons that control the functioning of the muscles get impaired by the toxin. This results in spasms and stiffness of the muscles, which is a major symptom of tetanus.

Cases of tetanus are commonly observed in people with no prior vaccination or adults who have not taken their 10-year booster shot. Tetanus is not a contagious disease and hence cannot be transferred from one person to another.

What is the treatment for tetanus?

There is no cure for tetanus. The available treatment options include taking care of the wound, medications to ease the symptoms, and proper supportive therapies.

Wound care

The first step, in order to prevent the growth of the tetanus spores is to remove any foreign objects, dirt, or dead tissues from the wound.


Your doctor may prescribe the following medicines for treating tetanus .

  • Vaccine: As soon as you are diagnosed with tetanus, you should immediately receive the tetanus vaccine.
  • Antitoxin: Your doctor may administer a tetanus immune globulin to neutralize any toxin that has not yet bonded to nerve tissues.
  • Antibiotics: Your doctor may recommend taking antibiotics, either by injection or orally.
  • Sedatives: To control muscle spasms,  powerful sedatives are given
  • Other drugs: Other  medications used for treating tetanus include magnesium sulfate and beta-blockers to regulate any involuntary muscle movement such as breathing and heartbeat.

Supportive Care

People with severe tetanus need to stay in an intensive care environment. As sedatives inhibit breathing you might need to stay under ventilation temporarily.

What are the potential risk factors associated with tetanus?

Though tetanus is not a contagious disease, the following can increase the likelihood of getting tetanus –

  • Any deep wound or injury that allows the tetanus spores to penetrate through your flesh.
  • Injury from a foreign body like a splinter or a nail
  • Improper vaccination or failure to stay updated with tetanus booster shots.

Tetanus can develop from the following –

  • Gunshot wounds, or puncture wounds from body piercings, injection drugs, tattoos, or splinters.
  • Burns
  • Compound fractures
  • Infected foot ulcer
  • Surgical wounds
  • Dental infection
  • Insect or animal bites
  • Infected umbilical stumps in newborns from  unvaccinated mothers.

How to prevent a tetanus infection?

The only way to prevent a tetanus infection is by getting vaccinated on time. The tetanus vaccine shot is usually given in the deltoid muscle. Children are given shots in the thigh or arm.

  • DT is given to babies and toddlers who had encountered an adverse reaction to the whooping cough vaccine. It is only effective against tetanus and diphtheria.
  • DTaP is for babies and toddlers to protect against tetanus, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), and tetanus. The DTaP vaccine is a series of five shots, given typically in the thigh or arm to children at ages:
    • 2 months
    • 4 months
    • 6 months
    • 15 to 18 months
    • 4 to 6 years

It is advised that adolescents get a dose of DTaP, preferably between the ages of 11 and 12, and a DT booster every 10 years thereafter.

To stay current with all of your vaccinations, talk to your doctor to regularly review your vaccination status.

If you were not vaccinated against tetanus as a child, check with your doctor about getting the Tdap vaccine. If you have not taken any booster shot in the past 10 years, or you have a deep wound and have not taken any booster shot in the past five years it is advised to get a shot .


Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.


It is okay to receive an additional boost of the tetanus vaccine, especially if you are being treated for a severe injury, such as a puncture wound or a deep cut. Taking vaccines at the right time is the best way to prevent tetanus.

An adult who has never been vaccinated should get the initial three tetanus shots. The first two are given at a gap of about four weeks whereas the third one is given after six to twelve months of the second shot. After completion of the initial series, boosters are advised every ten years. Consult a healthcare practitioner to know more about the tetanus vaccine.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

  1. For how long is a tetanus shot effective?

    After you have completed the initial tetanus series, you need to take booster shots every 10 years. But, if you have a puncture wound, you should get a booster shot irrespective of the last tetanus shot you had taken.

  2. What should you expect when you visit a doctor?

    If you are consulting a physician for a deep wound, he/she will inspect the wound first. Your physician will inquire if you had observed any tetanus symptoms such as muscle spasms. He/she will check if your symptoms are occasional or continuous, along with the last time you had been vaccinated against tetanus and the type of vaccination that you had received. This will help him/her decide the future course of action for your tetanus shot.

  3. What will happen if I don’t get a tetanus shot after getting cut with rusty metal?

    If you fail to get a tetanus shot after getting cut from rusty metal, the effect of the toxin on the respiratory muscles can lead to breathing complications. This will eventually lead to suffocation and finally death. You may get a tetanus infection after almost any skin injury, whether minor or major, including punctures, burns, cuts, animal bites or crush injuries.


Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

Verified By Dr T Anusha
M.D GENERAL MEDICINE, Consultant GENERAL MEDICINE, Apollo Hospitals, Health City, Visakhapatnam
8000+ Top doctors Associated and Apollo Hospitals is continuosly ranked as No1 Multispecialty Hospitals in India with best in class treatments for Cancer, Knee replacements, Liver Transplant, Heart, Diabetes, Kidney.

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