Tetanus is a rare but significantly serious disease, which causes tightening and stiffening of the muscles. The vaccine made for this disease protects people who could come in contact with the bacteria that causes it. Like any other vaccinations, these shots could lead to some tetanus shot side effects.
Tetanus occurs because of a bacterial infection, which according to the CDC kills one out of every ten people who has it. This bacteria is mostly present in substances like soil, dust, or manure and often enters the body through cuts or scratches.
Luckily, tetanus is a non-communicable disease, but you can still get it through a cut or a wound as this bacteria is common in dust, soil, and manure. This bacteria can enter the bodies of humans even through a tiny scratch or cut.
However, people are more likely to get infected through deep puncture wounds created by knives or nails. The bacteria can easily enter these wounds, and travel via blood or nerves toward the central nervous system.
The tetanus shots or vaccines are part of recommended series of immunizations among both children and adults. Additionally, they are vital to protect against the bacterial infection tetanus, also known as lockjaw.
Tetanus is known to cause painful muscle spasms, which can eventually lead to death. The above-mentioned vaccines have made tetanus a preventable disease. Moreover, thanks to its common use in the US, lockjaw/tetanus has become very rare.
However, the shots only make the disease preventable not curable. There is no actual cure and adults need to be vaccinated against it. Around 10% to 20% of the people who had it died because of a lack of vaccination.
Tetanus is one of the serious diseases that can lead to death and it is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani (C. tetani). C. tetani live in manure & soil and can enter your body through an open wound like a cut. The toxin produced by this bacterium causes the disease also known as lockjaw.
Rarely, in the US, 1 out of 10 people who contract this disease die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is a trusted source on diseases.
Like any other illness, Tetanus has its own distinct symptoms that are the results of a toxin produced by tetanus bacteria. Usually, these symptoms begin to show around a week after a person is infected, but this timeline can range from three days to three weeks or even longer.
The most common symptom of this disease is a stiff jaw that becomes “locked” and hence the other name of tetanus is “lockjaw.” Following are some more symptoms of lockjaw:
- Muscle stiffness, starting with the jaw, then spreading to the neck and the arms, legs, or abdomen
- Trouble swallowing
- Restlessness and irritability
- Sweating and fever
- Palpitations and high blood pressure
- Muscle spasms in the face, causing strange facial expressions
Tetanus Vaccine Types and Schedules
Normally, people get tetanus shots in the deltoid muscle or shoulder muscle and children get the same tetanus shots in the thigh or arm. There are four different kinds of vaccinations that you get based on age and vaccine status to protect against tetanus and other diseases.
DTaP vaccine is given to infants and young children to protect them against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis/whooping cough.
DT vaccine is for babies and young children who have had an unusual or allergic reaction to the whooping cough vaccine. Also, it only protects them against tetanus and diphtheria.
Tdap vaccine is given to older children and adults to protect them against tetanus, pertussis, and diphtheria.
Td vaccine is the booster shot for the same older children and adults that only protects them against tetanus and diphtheria.
Typically, children get five doses of the DT or DTaP shot at two months, four months, six months, between fifteen & eighteen months, and between four and six years. Later, comes one dose of the Tdap vaccine between the age of eleven and twelve. After that, people receive a Td booster every ten years.
People who did not receive the vaccine as a child should start with a three-dose primary vaccination series with one dose of Tdap and two doses of Td. Furthermore, these vaccines are given over a period of seven to twelve months. After that, individuals will need a Td booster every ten years.
Additionally, another dose of Tdap is recommended for pregnant women in their third trimester to protect their babies until they are old enough to get their own vaccinations.
Who Should Get the Tetanus Vaccine?
Individuals should get tetanus shots if they:
- Did not receive even the primary series of tetanus shots as children
- Did not take any tetanus booster in the past 10 years
- Have recovered from tetanus
Who Should Not Get the Tetanus Vaccine?
People should not get a Tdap vaccine again if they have had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of the same vaccine. Furthermore, the same restriction applies if they have a history of coma or seizures within a week following a Tdap vaccine taken before.
First, talk to your doctor if you have a history of nervous system problems like epilepsy or Guillain-Barre syndrome, or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy before taking the vaccine. Along with that, be aware of severe pain or swelling that may have been caused by the tetanus vaccine you received.
Individuals who have a moderate to severe acute illness have to wait to get the Tdap vaccine.
- An adverse reaction to a previous tetanus vaccine dose like swelling or severe pain
- An adverse allergic reaction to a previous vaccination dose
- Seizure or coma following a dose of Tdap or DTaP
- Seizures or other neurological problems
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Illness on the day of vaccination
Tetanus Vaccine Ingredients
Pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus vaccines are made of toxins that have been converted into non-toxic compounds. However, they still can trigger an immune response and these vaccines do not have live bacteria in them.
Tetanus Vaccine Risks and Tetanus Shot Side Effects
Generally, it is important to know that the risk of getting tetanus is much greater than the risk of getting a tetanus vaccination. It is not possible to get tetanus from the tetanus shot, but, sometimes tetanus vaccine could cause mild tetanus shot side effects.
These tetanus shot side effects may include:
- Soreness around the injection site
- Redness or swelling around the same site
- Headache or body aches
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Fussiness in babies and small children
Just like any other vaccine, the tetanus vaccine has some mild side effects, which are common to all types of shots. Many of these tetanus shot side effects are good signs indicating that your body is responding to the vaccine and building immunity against the targeted disease or diseases.
One of the most common tetanus shot side effects is pain at the injection site of the tetanus vaccine. According to the CDC, two in every three adult individuals who received the Tdap vaccine get these pains, but they will subside in a few days.
If the pain or swelling caused as a result of the vaccine causes you discomfort, taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as ibuprofen/Advil can be an option.
Individuals taking the tetanus vaccine can experience a slight fever of up to 100.4ºF or 38ºC following vaccination. If you experience this, OTC medications like Acetaminophen/Tylenol or Ibuprofen can help.
Headaches or various body aches/pains are also tetanus shot side effects of the vaccination that should subside shortly. Pain relief medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches can help to reduce the aches.
Feeling tired or drowsy is also a completely common side effect of a tetanus shot and like many other side effects, it is a sign that you are building up immunity for those diseases.
Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting is also considered one of mild tetanus shot side effects of the Tdap vaccine.
According to the CDC, one in ten individuals who received the vaccine will experience these tetanus shot side effects. To subside these symptoms, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, rest, and avoid food that could upset your stomach even more.
From time to time, young children may have more serious tetanus shot side effects from the DTap vaccine.
These tetanus shot side effects include the following symptoms:
- Fever above 105 degrees
- Inconsolable crying for 3 hours or more
- Swelling of the entire arm or leg where the tetanus shot was injected
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction, which is hard to predict and also a rare event that can happen within minutes of tetanus shot injection.
Symptoms of such reaction may include:
- Skin flushing, itching, or swelling
- Trouble breathing or other respiratory symptoms
- Mouth and throat swelling
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramping
- Dizziness, low blood pressure, a fast heartbeat
People who have noticed any signs of severe reactions must call 911 or go to a hospital right away to get checked. Describe the incidents that transpired when you took the vaccine to a health care professional along with what happened post-vaccination.
If the injection site is still bleeding or you are experiencing pain, swelling, or redness that is so severe it is halting your usual activities, contact a doctor.
There are also some rumors that the tetanus vaccine causes autism, but it is not possible. People have expressed their concerns about the serious side effects of this vaccine, but it may partly come from misinformation. The United States Department of Health and Human Services stated that research shows vaccines do not lead to autism.
Tetanus is a preventable disease that could be averted if vaccination is received on time. Deep puncture or cut wounds must be treated immediately and you can get a tetanus shot just to be safe.
There are different types of vaccines you can take according to your needs. Furthermore, there are some mild, moderate, and serious side effects of the tetanus vaccine, which range from very common to very rare.
Consider everything carefully and consult a doctor if necessary. As the old and well-known saying goes – “Prevention Is Better Than A Cure.”
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Content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. Reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students.