Tetanus refers to an infection caused by an anaerobic spore forming bacteria called Clostridium tetanii. It is also called as lock jaw syndrome. These organisms usually enter our body post contact with rusty nail (or dirt over the wound). Post exposure, the spores germinate within 10 days and the rapidly growing bacteria release a toxin called as tetanospasmin. This toxin acts on the central nervous system and results in tetanic muscular spasms that affect the respiratory system. In 10% cases, there is a high rate of fatality and the condition can be life threatening.
There is no medical treatment for tetanus. Prevention of this condition is the best way to treat it. This is achieved by means of immunization with tetanus toxoid vaccine or tetanus shot. It is given as DTP vaccine in children of six months up to two years of age. The vaccination elicits an immune response in the form of antibodies against tetanus toxin. However, just one dose of tetanus vaccine cannot provide a life-long immunity. Hence booster dosage is given at definite time intervals to maintain the antibody titres. These booster doses are recommended once in every ten years. Wide availability of tetanus vaccine had helped in combating the dangerous condition of tetanus which in turn has led to considerable decline in the rates of tetanus infections. Although, tetanus shots are highly recommended and advantageous, it might also produce side effects.
Side Effects of Tetanus Shot
Like most of the vaccines, administration of tetanus shot may cause side-effects in certain individuals. The side effects range from mild to severe.
Mild Side Effects of Tetanus Shot:
These include -
- Pain and stiffness over the site of injection. This is the most common side effect observed with tetanus shot and the resultant pain remains for a few days. This may or may not be accompanied by muscle stiffness in the area where the shot was delivered. Overall this is not a very dangerous condition and disappears within few days.
- Side effects of swelling and redness may be noted over the site of injection. This resolves in a short while.
- Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea may develop post vaccination. This may be accompanied by blood in urine and stool. This side effect is mild and resolves quickly with correct medical intervention.
- Tetanus is a toxoid and is immunogenic which may cause mild fever in some people. It is associated with headache and mild body chills.
- Pneumonia may also develop in some rare cases.
Severe Side Effects of Tetanus Shot These are more intense, long-lasting and may require immediate medical attention.
- Allergic Reaction. This is extremely rare. After the tetanus shot is administered, it may causes side effects of development of rash or swelling at the injection site. It can lead to life threatening events predisposed by dizziness, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
- One may also experience tingling in the hands/feet, problems with hearing, swallowing difficulties and muscle weakness as a side effect of tetanus shot. In addition there could be prolonged vomiting, nausea, low blood pressure and prolonged diarrhoea.
- In very rare cases, there could be seizures which may cause brain damage and coma.
Severe side effects are an emergency situation where one should immediately consult the doctor for further evaluation and management.
Parents of children receiving tetanus shots should be cautious about these side effects. Crying and fussiness in children post vaccination is common; however, in case of more side effects, one should follow up with a physician immediately.
Precautions in Administering Tetanus Shot in Case of Certain Medical Conditions
The presence of specific medical conditions increases the risk of developing severe side effects and may require modification of the administered dosage. These include:
- Blood clotting disorders
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Low platelet count or thrombocytopenia
- High fever
If adequate care is not taken, it may lead to life threatening situations.
Treating Side Effects of Tetanus Shot
The common and mild side effect usually resolves on its own and does not require any medical intervention. In case of pain, diarrhoea, nausea, fatigue, appropriate medication is advised for symptomatic relief. Severe side effects require immediate medical attention. The doctor will evaluate the condition and provide the appropriate treatment. In certain cases of severe side effects, hospitalization might be required.
Tetanus is a serious medical condition and can only be prevented by administering tetanus vaccine. In some cases, the vaccination can lead to certain side effects. Most of these side effects are mild and resolve on their own. Some of the severe side effects may require hospitalization. Overall the administration of tetanus vaccine is considered to be highly beneficial, with rare side effects.