Tetanus is a serious disease that’s caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani (C. tetani).
C. tetani lives in soil and manure. It usually enters your body through an open wound. A toxin that’s produced by the bacterium causes the disease, also referred to as lockjaw.
Although rare in the United States, 1 in 10 people who contract it die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The tetanus vaccine helps protect against tetanus. The vaccine that you get for tetanus can also contain components to prevent contracting certain other serious bacterial diseases, such as diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
The different tetanus vaccine formulations are as follows:
- DTaP. This vaccine prevents tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It’s used for children younger than 7 years old.
- Tdap. This vaccine prevents tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It’s used for older children and adults.
- DT and Td. These prevent tetanus and diphtheria. DT is given to younger children, while Td is typically given to older children and adults.
There are some mild side effects to any of the tetanus vaccines. These side effects are common to all types of tetanus shot. Most of these side effects are signs that your body is responding to build immunity against the disease.
Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
Pain at the injection site is one of the most common side effects from receiving the tetanus vaccine. According to the CDC, it occurs in 2 in 3 adults that receive the Tdap vaccine. This should subside in a few days.
If pain or swelling is causing you discomfort, you can take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil) to help.
People receiving the tetanus vaccine can experience a mild fever of up to 100.4ºF (38ºC) following vaccination.
If you experience a mild fever following tetanus vaccination, OTC medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen can help.
Headache or other body aches
You may experience a headache or various aches and pains throughout your body after your tetanus vaccination. These side effects should subside shortly.
You can take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches.
You may feel tired or drowsy following your tetanus vaccination. This is a completely common side effect. Like many of the previously listed side effects, it’s a sign that your body and immune system are working hard to build up immunity.
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Experiencing nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea is considered a mild side effect of the Tdap vaccine. The CDC estimates 1 in 10 adults receiving the Tdap vaccine will experience this side effect.
If you experience this, be sure to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid foods that could further upset your stomach.
Serious side effects to the tetanus vaccine are very rare. However, if you experience any of these following your tetanus vaccination, seek immediate medical care.
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases, the tetanus vaccine can cause an allergic reaction. Serious allergic reactions typically begin a few minutes to a few hours after vaccination.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms below following your tetanus shot, call your doctor immediately.
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of your face or throat
- rapid heartbeat
Severe pain, redness, swelling, or bleeding at the injection site
Mild to moderate pain, redness, or swelling can occur following tetanus vaccination.
However, if the injection site is bleeding or you experience pain, redness, or swelling that’s so severe that you can’t perform your usual activities, contact your doctor.
The CDC recommends that people of all ages receive the tetanus vaccine.
The DTaP vaccine is recommended for children under the age of 7 years old.
DTaP vaccination should be given at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, and from 15 through 18 months. A booster is recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 6 years old.
Tdap vaccination should be given to children at ages 11 or 12.
Additionally, adults who didn’t receive the Tdap vaccine at this age should receive a Tdap vaccination in place of their normal tetanus booster.
Since protection from tetanus infection fades over time, adults should receive a Td booster shot every 10 years to remain protected.
Who shouldn’t receive the vaccination?
Talk to your doctor before receiving the tetanus vaccine if any of the following applies to you:
- You’ve had a severe reaction to a previous dose of the tetanus vaccine, such as severe pain or swelling.
- You’ve had a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of the tetanus vaccine.
- You experienced seizure or coma following a dose of DTaP or Tdap. Adults fitting these criteria can still be given the Td vaccine. The DT vaccine can also be given to children under 7 years that are sensitive to the pertussis component of the vaccine.
- You have seizures or other neurological problems.
- You’ve had Guillain-Barré syndrome.
- You’re feeling ill on the day you’re scheduled to receive your vaccination.
People of all ages should receive the tetanus vaccine.
If you believe you’re in need of your 10-year booster, see your doctor so that it can be administered. If you haven’t yet received the Tdap vaccine, you should receive it in lieu of your normal Td booster shot.
Keep records of when you receive your booster so that you know when you’re due for your next one.
If you have concerns regarding the tetanus vaccination or have ever had a severe or life-threatening reaction to the tetanus vaccine, be sure to discuss this with your doctor as well.