Adults can reduce risk of infection by getting a booster shot every 10 years.

Tetanus, or “lockjaw,” is a serious disease caused by bacteria found in soil, dust and manure. Although a person is most likely to contract tetanus when they incur a wound caused by a contaminated object, like a rusty nail, all it takes is a break in the skin to come into contact with a contaminated medium such as dirt, soil or feces.

Tetanus infections in the U.S. almost always occur in people who have not been vaccinated, or in adults who have not stayed current on their booster shots. The current Tdap vaccination not only covers the recommended tetanus booster, but protects against diptheria and pertussis, or whooping cough, as well. All can be dangerous, also are easily preventable.Tdap is the vaccination given to adults, while DTaP is given to children to prevent the same diseases. If you have not had a booster shot within the past 10 years, you may no longer be protected from tetanus. In order to stay current on your vaccinations,follow the recommended schedules, and consult with your pharmacist or doctor to determine your exact needs.

A common first symptom of tetanus is a muscle spasm in the jaw. Further symptoms include headache, jaw cramping, muscle spasms (especially in the stomach), painful muscle stiffness throughout the body, trouble swallowing, seizures, fever and sweating, high blood pressure, and fast heart rate.The time from exposure to first symptoms is three to 21 days, and normally about 10 days. A factor in the length of incubation is the location of the injury. Typically, the further the injury is from the central nervous system, the longer the incubation period.

The average reported number of tetanus cases in the U.S. is only 29, with approximately 10-20 percent resulting in death. National reporting of tetanus was not possible before 1947, but it is known that since the early 1900s tetanus antitoxins and, later, vaccinations had already decreased the number of tetanus infections and deaths dramatically. Since universal childhood immunization began in the 1940s, reported tetanus cases have dropped more than 95 percent, and deaths due to a tetanus infection have declined more than 99 percent. However, tetanus can still pose a risk to those who are unprotected.

When to get tetanus boosters/vaccines

Adults and teens:

Every 10 years get the booster called Td vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria. Also, it is recommended that adults replace their Td booster one time with the Tdap vaccine, which contains the Td booster, plus adds lifetime protection from diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).


It is recommended that infants and children receive five doses of the diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine.

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months
  • 4 through 6 years of age

Consult with your pediatrician to ensure these are administered on the schedule appropriate for your child.