The use of tetanus shots dates back to the early 1900s when the vaccine was created from a “toxoid,” or inactive toxin. Later development of the tetanus shot introduced a diphtheria toxoid that created a combination-type vaccine known as DTP. The tetanus vaccine has undergone quite a few transformations since its inception, and along with those changes have come different recommendations regarding who should receive the shot, how often it should be administered and how long the tetanus shot actually lasts.
What is tetanus?
Tetanus is often the result of an infection that enters the body through an open wound. The tetanus condition, also known as lockjaw, is caused by the clostridium tetani bacteria. The infection is denoted by severe muscle spasms that lead to lengthy and uncomfortable contractions of the skeletal muscles. Facial spasms are early indicators of tetanus, followed by neck pain, sweating, fever and trouble swallowing; the severe muscle spasms begin soon after.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most Americans are inoculated three times during infancy with their first doses of tetanus toxoid. Another shot is usually administered between the ages of 15 and 18 months, and again between the ages of 4 and 6. But these tetanus shots guard against disease only for so long, requiring adults to have repeated booster shots at least every 10 years.
Tdap and Td
The 10-year duration of the tetanus shot requires vaccination against the clostridium tetani bacteria several times during an individual's life span. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there are several different forms of tetanus vaccine that can be administered to older adolescents and adults every 10 years. Tdap is advised for adolescents between the ages of 11 and 12, and provides immunity against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). The Td booster is a combined tetanus and diphtheria vaccine that is recommended for use in adults up to age 64.
Tetanus shots and injury
Some people may not recall their last tetanus shot, let alone whether it was within the past 10 years. Under these circumstances, it may be advisable to have a tetanus shot administered after certain injuries, just in case. According to the University of Michigan Health Systems, this theory holds true when an injury is caused by an animal bite or puncture, or when the injured area has sustained considerable exposure to dirt or rust. A tetanus shot should also be administered if any of these injuries occur to a person who has received a tetanus shot more than five years ago.
The necessity of a 10-year Td booster often outweighs the risk of side effects. Although the side effects associated with Td are extremely rare, it is important to contact a physician if an allergic reaction occurs or if serious aches and pains develop. Reddening and inflammation at the site of injection, however, are quite normal.