Tetanus – Why Do You Need a Tetanus Shot

Back in my younger days, I can remember having to get a tetanus shot every so often, especially after having various wounds stitched up. However, at the time, I really did not give a second thought about what tetanus was or what the shot in the arm or sometimes in the buttock, was for. However, I do recall how sore these extremities were for a few days afterward.

What Does a Tetanus Shot Do

A tetanus shot protects against bacteria, called Clostridium tetani, which is found in soil and animal faeces. Tetanus or lockjaw, as it is commonly referred to, is a serious disease that can happen if dirt containing the tetanus spores gets into an open wound in the skin causing contamination.

Although the bacteria can get in through the tiniest of scratches, deeper wounds tend to be more susceptible to infection by tetanus. If infection does set in, it will first affect the nervous system causing severe muscle spasms and locking of the jaw, hence the name lockjaw.

Because the muscles that are used for breathing are also affected, breathing becomes either extremely difficult or impossible and can, in extreme circumstances, prove fatal without medical intervention.

Tetanus is preventable through vaccination and to that end, immunization is recommended for all infants and children before starting school. Doses of vaccine are suggested at the ages of two, four, six and eighteen months of age respectively followed by a booster at four to six years of age. That vaccination is normally a combined Diphtheria Tetanus Pertussis vaccine or DTaP.

How Long is a Tetanus Shot Effective

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a tetanus shot is thought to protect a person for up to ten years. However, it is important that booster shots are continued throughout life. Current recommendations are that booster vaccinations should be given at eleven or twelve years of age provided at least five years have elapsed since the last DTaP vaccine was administered.

While it is best to prevent tetanus with regular vaccinations, treatment is available using antibiotics. However, if left untreated, tetanus can prove fatal to one in three people. So, next time you receive an injury while outside and that wound comes into contact with soil, you may need a tetanus shot especially if your last injection was more than five years ago.

Page Updated: October 11, 2017
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