When Do I Need a Tetanus Shot?

When Do I Need a Tetanus Shot?

What is tetanus?

Tetanus, also known as “lockjaw,” is a serious infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. The bacteria lives in soil, dirt and feces. It enters the body through broken skin such as stepping on sharp objects, wounds, or burns. However, it is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

After entering the body, the tetanus bacteria then produce a toxin that causes muscle contractions starting in the jaw muscles. This can lead to the inability to open the mouth, swallow and breathe. Tetanus is a life-threatening condition with no cure. Treatment aims at managing the symptoms until the toxin resolves. This is why getting the tetanus vaccine as prevention is so important.

Tetanus shot?

The tetanus shot contains inactive or dead bacteria, so it cannot give you tetanus. It will stimulate an immune response in your body and allow it to create antibodies. These antibodies are proteins that will be able to recognize and fight the tetanus bacteria if you are ever exposed. This will prevent you from getting sick and having “lockjaw.”

The tetanus vaccine is given to babies, children and adults. Babies and children are given six doses of tetanus throughout their childhood starting at 2 months old to 12 years old. These may be given in combination with other routine vaccinations such as diphtheria and pertussis. Older children and adults receive the Td vaccine which consists of tetanus and diphtheria or the Tdap which consists of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

When should the tetanus shot be given to adults?

Adults need a tetanus booster every 10 years. This is a tetanus shot to “boost” and remind the immune system to protect against tetanus. Pregnant moms need a tetanus shot during the third trimester of each pregnancy to protect the mother and baby.

Healthcare providers will give tetanus shots if someone has broken skin. The person will need a shot if:
– Immunization history is unknown
– The last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago
– Had less than three doses of tetanus


  • What is Tetanus:
    • Serious infection caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria.
    • Enters through broken skin (wounds, burns) but not contagious.
    • Produces toxin causing muscle contractions, leading to life-threatening conditions.
  • Tetanus Shot:
    • Contains inactive bacteria, stimulates immune response.
    • Given to babies, children, and adults.
    • Adults need a booster every 10 years, pregnant women in the third trimester.
    • Given if immunization history is unknown or last shot was more than 10 years ago.
  • Prevention:
    • Tetanus vaccine crucial for prevention.
    • Six doses for children, Td or Tdap for older children and adults.

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

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