Tetanus, commonly called lockjaw, is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system. It is contracted through a cut or wound that becomes contaminated with tetanus bacteria. The bacteria can get in through even a tiny pinprick or scratch, but deep puncture wounds or cuts like those made by nails or knives are especially susceptible to infection with tetanus. Tetanus bacteria are present worldwide and are commonly found in soil, dust and manure. Infection with tetanus causes severe muscle spasms, leading to "locking" of the jaw so the patient cannot open his/her mouth or swallow, and may even lead to death by suffocation. Tetanus is not transmitted from person to person.


Vaccination is the best way to protect against tetanus. Due to widespread immunization, tetanus is now a rare disease in the U.S. A combination shot, called the Td vaccine, protects against both tetanus and diphtheria. A Td booster shot is recommended every 10 years. Adults who have never received immunization against tetanus should start with a 3-dose primary series given over 7-12 months.


  • Headache
  • Muscular stiffness in the jaw (lockjaw)
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Rigidity of abdominal muscles and spasms
  • Sweating and fever
  • Symptoms usually begin 8 days after the infection, but may range in onset from 3 days to 3 weeks

    Who should get the TD vaccine?

  • All adults who have not had a Td booster shot in the last 10 years.
  • Adults who have recovered from tetanus (lockjaw) disease.
  • Adults who have never received immunization against tetanus.
  • All adolescents and adults who deferred their regular booster during 2001-2002 because of shortages of the vaccine
  • Vaccine Safety

    Tetanus vaccine and the combination Td vaccine are very safe and effective. When side effects do occur, they usually include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site and a slight fever. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting a vaccine such as an allergic reaction or neurologic condition. However, the potential risks associated with tetanus disease are much greater than the potential risks associated with the tetanus vaccine. You cannot get tetanus from the vaccine.

    Facts about Tetanus

  • Tetanus can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
  • You cannot get tetanus from the vaccine.
  • Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by a type of bacteria found worldwide in soil, dust and manure.
  • Tetanus is not transmitted from one person to another.
  • Almost all reported cases of tetanus occur in persons who have either never been vaccinated, or those who completed a primary series but have not had a booster vaccination in the past 10 years.
  • Approximately 11% of reported cases of tetanus are fatal. In the U.S., where 50 or fewer cases of tetanus occur each year, deaths are more likely to occur in persons 60 years of age and older.
  • People with tetanus may have to spend several weeks in the hospital under intensive care.
  • For adults, a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) shot every 10 years ensures protection against these two diseases.
  • Recovery from tetanus illness may not result in immunity. Another infection could occur unless immunization is provided soon after the person's condition has stabilized.
  • Other vaccines may be given at the same time as TD.