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Five Things You Should Know Before Getting a Tetanus Shot

A tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster shot is recommended every 10 years.

A tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster shot is recommended every 10 years.

Do you remember the last time you had a tetanus shot? I didn't either. When the doctor asked me when I had my last one, I told her that I was sure it was before I went off to college—nearly 20 years before. She told me the clinic was trying to get all of their patients' tetanus shots updated.

Without really thinking about it, I told her to go ahead. The nurse came in and explained that my arm would probably be really sore for a couple of days. "No big deal," I thought. Looking back, I really wish I had known more before getting my tetanus shot. (You can read about my tetanus shot experience on my blog post, "A Real Pain in the Arm."

What You'll Learn By the End of This Article

Here are five things you should know before getting your tetanus shot:

  1. What Is Tetanus?
  2. Who Should Get a Tetanus Shot?
  3. What Am I Getting Injected With?
  4. What Are the Side Effects of Tetanus Shots?
  5. Can I Prevent Tetanus Without Getting Vaccinated?
Clostridium tetani are rod-shaped, spore-forming bacteria that release a toxin responsible for tetanus, or lockjaw.

Clostridium tetani are rod-shaped, spore-forming bacteria that release a toxin responsible for tetanus, or lockjaw.

1. What Is Tetanus?

Tetanus is a bacterial infection (via Clostridium tetani) that affects the central nervous system. It is also known as lockjaw because one of the characteristic symptoms is the inability to open the mouth or swallow. Tetanus can also cause seizures, uncontrollable muscle contractions, muscle spasms, and even death.

You may have heard that you can get tetanus from a cut by a rusty nail. However, it isn't the rust or the nail but the bacteria on it that causes the infection. C. tetani commonly exist in soil, dust, and animal feces—most notably, horse feces—and spreads through direct contact with broken skin, open wounds, and even burns.

Babies should be vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).

Babies should be vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).