Tetanus is a serious disease that can lead to death. The good news is, the number of tetanus cases and deaths have dropped dramatically since the 1940s.

There are two main reasons for this. When it comes to the drop in deaths, wound treatment and management has improved significantly since the late 1940s, and we’re better at treating injuries that may lead to tetanus. When it comes to the drop in cases, immunizations have saved the day.

At Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics, we know that immunizations are a key to helping protect your child’s health and safeguard their future. It’s why we recommend and offer the immunization schedule approved by the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians.

In this blog, Nicolette Marak, MD, discusses tetanus basics, tetanus symptoms, how immunization can help protect your child, and the tetanus-specific immunization schedule.

The basics of tetanus

Tetanus is a serious disease of the nervous system caused by the common clostridium tetani bacterium. Clostridium tetani is found in cultivated soil, animal excrement, house dust, and human feces.

Although often associated with stepping on an old and rusted nail, the two are not explicitly connected. A rusty nail has two major risk factors for tetanus, a high likelihood of bacteria and a deep wound. However, a deep cut from a kitchen knife could be just as likely to give you tetanus.

The bacteria can live for up to 40 years as long as it has access to oxygen. When a deep wound occurs, the bacteria may be cut off from oxygen. To survive, the bacteria germinate and produce a toxin that enters the bloodstream and causes symptoms. Incubation takes 3-21 days.

The symptoms of tetanus

The most common symptom of a tetanus infection is the tightening of the jaw muscles, or lockjaw. You may hear people call tetanus “lockjaw” because of this. Other symptoms include:

  • Sudden, involuntary muscle tightening and muscle spasms
  • Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Jerking or staring
  • Headache
  • Fever and sweating
  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate

Severe muscle spasms of the whole body can start as the disease worsens. The seizure-like spasms are often caused by subtle, everyday sensations, such as a loud sound, a physical touch, a draft, or light. In worst case scenarios, such spasms can make breathing, drinking, and eating difficult or impossible.

How immunizations work

Immunizations help the body create an immune defense against a specific infection. Your body produces antibodies when it notices an infection has entered. These antibodies go out and destroy the infection to keep you healthy. Once the infection is fought off the first time, the antibodies remember how to beat it in case it comes back.

With an immunization, a harmless version of the infection is put into your body. It’s either dead, too weak to cause damage, or is an inactive toxin the organism produces. In any case, the body fights it, and if the real thing ever comes along, the body is able to fight it off again.

Tetanus immunizations for children

Tetanus immunization is mostly condensed into the first two years: four doses of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis) vaccine spaced out at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months. Another DTaP immunization is needed between 4 and 6 years old.

After this initial period, your preteen (11-12) will need a Tdap shot, which is a booster of the DTaP vaccine. Their next vaccine for tetanus will be as an adult, when they get a Tdap booster every 10 years, starting at around age 21, for continued protection.

To learn more about immunizations and how they can help protect your child, book an appointment over the phone with Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics today.


Our goal is for you to leave our office with a memorable and enjoyable experience, which is why our welcoming and compassionate staff will do everything they can to make you feel right at home.

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