Why get a tetanus shot?
Tetanus is an infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. It's found everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust and manure. People generally develop tetanus because of a contaminated wound. Tetanus is often referred to as “lockjaw,” because it can cause jaw cramping.
If you step on a rusty nail or cut yourself while working outside, it's recommended that you get a tetanus shot. With the recent tornadoes, public health nurses have traveled to disaster sites to administer tetanus shots. With so much metal and debris, it's more likely that people cleaning up might cut themselves and need a tetanus shot to better ensure they don't get sick.
What happens when you get the shot?
A medical professional will disinfect your arm and deliver the shot usually through a needle that's about one inch long. The needle has to be long enough to get to the muscle in your arm. Children and infants might get tetanus shots in their upper leg because the muscles aren't as developed in their arms.
It's recommended that children get a round of tetanus vaccinations, starting when they're a few months old. An adult who has never gotten a tetanus shot should complete the initial tetanus series of three tetanus shots. The first two shots are generally given at least four weeks apart, and then the third shot is given within six months to a year after the second shot. After that series, it's recommended to get a tetanus shot every 10 years.
Does it hurt?
This will depend on your pain tolerance. Some people don't feel the needle go in when they get the shot. Afterward, you will probably have some soreness in your arm. The amount of time your arm is sore varies from person to person.
What are the risk factors?
You or your child might experience pain, redness or swelling at the injection site. Some people develop a mild fever after getting the shot. Others experience headache, tiredness, nausea or diarrhea. It's not as common, but some people have experienced chills, body aches, sore joints, rash or swollen glands after getting their tetanus shots.
If you have a severe reaction after getting a tetanus shot, such as a severe allergy, coma or seizures, it's not recommended that you get another tetanus shot, unless your reaction wasn't related to the shot.
Also, children with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated, but children who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting the DTaP vaccine.
What's the follow-up?
Public health officials recommend that you get a tetanus shot every 10 years. If you have an accident, such as stepping on a rusty nail, you should get a tetanus shot, even if you've gotten a shot within the past 10 years. This is recommended because the vaccine's effectiveness can wane over time.
Source: Elise Hooks, immunization field consultant at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department; Oklahoma State Department of Health; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Mayo Clinic.