Tetanus

Commonly known as lockjaw, tetanus is a severe disease that causes stiffness and spasms of the muscles.

Unlike other vaccine-preventable diseases, which are transferred from person to person, tetanus bacteria are found in places such as soil/dirt, dust, and manure, and can therefore never be eradicated. They enter the body through any break in the skin, such as a cut or a puncture wound. A person can also be infected after a burn or animal bite.

There’s no cure for tetanus. Treatment focuses on managing complications until the effects of the tetanus toxin resolve. Almost all cases of tetanus are in people who haven’t been vaccinated, or completed their childhood series but did not have their booster dose in the last 10 years. Fatality is highest in people who haven’t been immunized. Up to 20% of reported tetanus cases end in death.

Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of tetanus, in order of appearance, are:

  • Seizures (jerking or staring)
  • Fever and sweating
  • High blood pressure and fast heart rate
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness of muscles all over the body
  • Painful muscle spasms strong enough to break a child’s spine or bones

Prevention

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent tetanus. The tetanus vaccine for children (DTaP) also helps protect against diphtheria and pertussis. The adolescent and adult version of this vaccine is known as Tdap. When tetanus is just combined with diphtheria, the vaccine is called Td.

For the best protection against tetanus, your children need to receive all of the five recommended doses of the DTaP vaccine. Doses are given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years of age. Booster doses of Tdap and Td are needed for adolescents and adults. Adolescents should receive a dose of Tdap, preferably at 11 or 12 years old, and adults need Td booster shots every 10 years. For adolescents and adults who haven’t received a dose of Tdap yet, the easiest thing to do is to get Tdap instead of their next regular tetanus booster. The dose of Tdap can be given earlier than the 10-year mark, so its a good idea to talk to a doctor about getting the vaccine.

To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.