Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that can lead to death. Infections enter through cuts or other wounds that break the skin, especially when wounds are dirty. They can also result from animal bites, burns and injection by unsterilized needles. A toxin in tetanus bacteria causes muscle spasms that make it hard to breathe or open your mouth. That’s why tetanus is sometimes called “lockjaw.”

A tetanus shot is the best way to prevent a tetanus infection.

Find a CareNow® clinic near you

What is a tetanus shot?

A tetanus shot vaccinates you against the toxin in tetanus bacteria. It is considered completely effective in preventing tetanus infections.

The tetanus vaccine is always combined with other vaccines. Four combinations are used:

  • A DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) is given to younger children.
  • A DT vaccine (diphtheria and tetanus) is given to children who can’t receive a pertussis vaccine.
  • A Td vaccine (tetanus and diphtheria) is given to older children.
  • A Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) is given to older children and adults.

Who should get a tetanus shot?

Tetanus vaccines are recommended for anyone older than 2 months old. Here are specific recommendations:

  • Children age 6 and younger should receive a DTaP or DT vaccine.
  • Children age 7 and older, adolescents and adults should receive a Tdap or Td vaccine.
  • Pregnant women should receive a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy.
  • Everyone should receive a booster tetanus shot every 10 years.
  • Anyone whose skin is wounded by a dirty item should get a booster tetanus shot if the last shot was more than five years ago.

If you’re not sure whether you need a tetanus shot, talk to a healthcare provider.

What are the side effects of a tetanus shot?

Any side effects from a tetanus shot are typically mild. They include soreness and redness in the area the shot was given and occasionally fever. Serious side effects are rare.

Any vaccine carries a very small risk of severe allergic reaction. Go to the ER if you experience difficulty breathing, dizziness or swelling in the face.

If you are overdue for a tetanus shot or have a skin wound that is dirty, contact the nearest CareNow® urgent care clinic today. You can minimize your wait time with our Web Check-In®.