Tetanus (Lockjaw)

Baby with neonatal tetanus with complete regidity

What is Tetanus?
Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a severe disease caused by a toxin made by a bacteria. Tetanus can cause breathing problems, painful muscle spasms and stiffness, and paralysis. It can also be deadly. Tetanus kills 1 out of 5 of those who contract the bacteria. Unlike other vaccine-preventable diseases, which are transferred from person to person, tetanus bacteria grow in soil and can therefore never be eradicated. The bacterium usually enters the body through a cut or a puncture wound to the skin. A person can also be infected after a burn or animal bite.

The Statistics
From 1922 to 1926, there were an estimated 1,314 cases of tetanus per year in the U.S. By 2002, as a result of extensive immunization, only 25 cases of tetanus were reported and those low rates continued through 2008 (the most recent year in which data are available).

The Vaccine
The diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) protects children from tetanus. A five doses series of DTaP is required and should be given to children at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years.

The diphtheria and tetanus toxoids vaccine (Td) and the diphtheria and tetanus toxoids vaccine and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) protect adolescents and adults against the disease. Two doses of the Tdap vaccine are recommended for adolescents. The first dose at age 11 or 12 and the second dose between 13 and 18 years of age.

Adults should receive one dose of Td every 10 years, and should substitute a one time dose of Tdap for one of their Td boosters.

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