Tetanus is a medical condition that is caused due to infection by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. These are anaerobic spore forming bacteria, can grow in the absence of oxygen and are resistant to heat and chemical action. The spores of these bacteria are present in the soil, intestines and in feces of farm and household animals. These spores enter through holes or wound in the human body. The spores of Clostridium germinate at an average of eight days. After which the bacteria multiply and releases toxin which acts on the central nervous system. It leads to jaw muscle spasm, neck stiffness, difficulty in swallowing and stiffness of abdominal muscles. There can be fever, sweating and rapid heart rate. It results in complications such as spasm of vocal cords which interferes with breathing and in rare cases the patients can also break bones and spine. Tetanus has high fatality rate with 10% cases resulting in death. There is no cure for tetanus. The best treatment is to prevent its occurrence. This can be prevented through vaccination with tetanus toxoid, also known as tetanus shots.
When is Tetanus Shot Given?
Tetanus shot or vaccine is in triple form as DTP vaccine which stands for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Tetanus shot is given in the form of inactivated toxoid. The vaccine contains the chemically inactivated forms of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis which make them nontoxic. These inactivated bacteria elicit immune response which in turn promotes protection from these health conditions.
The tetanus shot or vaccine is available in different forms as:
- DTaP: This tetanus shot or vaccine contains all three diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis. It is administered to infants and children aged 6 weeks through 6 years.
- DT: This vaccine contains diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and lacks pertussis component. It is given to 6 weeks old children with adverse reaction to pertussis.
- Tdap: This fir of tetanus shot or vaccine contains all the three toxoids and is administered to adolescents and adults only.
- Td: This vaccine contains tetanus and diphtheria toxoids. It is administered to children (> 7 years) and older adults.
How Long Does Tetanus Shot Last?
Generally, the first tetanus shot or vaccine is delivered to children of age 2 months. However, this initial dose does not confer life-long immunity. Hence, further booster doses of tetanus shot are required throughout the life. The usual schedule for infants is four doses given at 2, 4, 6 and 15-19 months of age and the 5th dose is given between age 4 and 6 years. The reason for so many doses if tetanus shot is that the primary injection confers protection for a number of years. The booster doses of tetanus shot maintain that protection; while the fifth dose provides life-long immunity.
Adolescents receive booster tetanus shots (Tdap shots) at 11-12 years of age. If they miss on this, then they can take it at 13-18 years of age too. Administering these vaccines confers protection. However, levels of antibodies against these toxoids decreases over time. Therefore, booster doses of Td are required every ten years.
Tetanus is a dangerous medical condition and there is no treatment available. Hence, one must prevent its occurrence by vaccination. The tetanus shot or vaccine is given as a primary dose followed by booster doses to maintain immunity. It is necessary that every child and individual should be vaccinated against tetanus to prevent life threatening situations.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Tetanus (Lockjaw): https://www.cdc.gov/tetanus/index.html
- World Health Organization (WHO) – Tetanus: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tetanus
- Mayo Clinic – Tetanus: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tetanus/symptoms-causes/syc-20351625
- National Foundation for Infectious Diseases – Tetanus: https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/tetanus/