You may have been advised to get an injection for tetanus one or more times in your life if you got a skin injury or came in contact with sharp metallic objects that had rusted. 

You may also have heard that the tetanus vaccine is administered as part of childhood immunization. What is tetanus and why do you need to be vaccinated against it? Let's find out. 

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani. These bacteria are everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust, and manure. 

The bacteria can enter your body through a puncture wound with contaminated objects such as nails, knives, tools, wood splinters, unclean tools used during childbirth, or from animal bites. 

The bacteria produce toxins that spread throughout your body, affect the nervous system, and cause muscles throughout your body to tighten. 

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Tetanus often causes stiffness in the jaw and neck, and the disease is thus also called “lockjaw”. 

Other symptoms of the infection include muscle spasms in different body parts, seizures, sweating, fever, and headache. 

What types of vaccines are available against tetanus?

Tetanus does not spread from person to person and vaccination can prevent the infection.

  • A vaccine against tetanus is available in the form of a combination DPT vaccine against three infectious diseases: Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus (DPT). 

  • A standalone Tetanus Toxoid (TT) vaccine was also available, which has been replaced with a Tetanus and Diphtheria (Td) combination vaccine since 2018-2019 in India. 

 Who needs tetanus immunisation?

  • All children must receive vaccines against tetanus as per the immunisation schedule to prevent tetanus in other age groups.

  • Pregnant women should be vaccinated against tetanus during pregnancy with the primary doses and booster doses when needed, to prevent maternal and neonatal tetanus.

  • Adults who have never been immunised against tetanus should start a complete immunisation course as soon as possible with booster doses at appropriate gaps. 

How is the vaccine administered?

The vaccine is given as an intramuscular injection.

How many doses of the vaccine are administered?

For babies:

  • A pentavalent vaccine containing the DPT vaccine is given at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, and 14 weeks of age. 

  • The first DPT booster is given at 16 to 24 months of age. 

  • The second DPT booster is given at 5 to 6 years of age. 

  • The Td combination vaccine is given at 10 years and 16 years of age.

For pregnant women:

  • A Td vaccine is given early in pregnancy.

  • A second Td vaccine is given 4 weeks after the first Td vaccine, preferably before 36 weeks of pregnancy. 

  • A booster dose of Td is given preferably before 36 weeks of pregnancy if the woman has received 2 Td doses in pregnancy within the last 3 years. 

For those who were never immunised against tetanus during childhood:

  • An initial course including 3 doses of tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine is given, each one month apart.

  • A fourth dose is given 10 years after the initial course.

  • A fifth dose is given 10 years after the fourth dose.

Is a tetanus vaccine required after every injury? 

  • The protection from a tetanus vaccine remains for 5 years. Thus, if you suffer from an injury and have received the vaccine in the past 5 years, there is no need to take a tetanus vaccine for an injury.

  • If you have not received a tetanus vaccine in the last 5 years, it is advisable to get a booster dose as soon as possible after the injury.

  • If you have never been immunised against tetanus, it is advisable to begin the complete course of immunisation for adults, as soon as possible after the injury. 

Tetanus is a life-threatening yet preventable disease. Keep a track of your immunisation status and avail vaccines as per schedule for yourself and your loved ones. Consult a doctor for advice on immunisation. Stay safe.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.