Q. How often should a healthy adult get a tetanus shot and what type of wounds would require a booster shot?
A. Tetanus is a severe, life-threatening illness caused by bacteria, Clostridium tetani, found most commonly in dust, soil, and manure. Known as “lock jaw”, symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, severe muscle spasms of the face and spinal muscles, respiratory arrest and cardiac rhythm problems. All symptoms are reversible, but recovery can take months of intensive care. It should be clear, therefore, that everyone should be vaccinated against tetanus.
A new vaccine called Tdap or Adacel is now recommended along with the older Td vaccine in adults, age 19 to 64. The Tdap vaccine can be given as part of 3 vaccines in an unvaccinated adult, or given as close as 2 years after the last Td vaccine. In other words, every adult age 19 to 64 should receive one Tdap injection, followed by Td vaccines every 10 years.
Tetanus infection can be contracted from any injury that breaks the skin – a pin prick, a puncture wound, a laceration or more serious injury. It has been reported in post-operative situations as well. Fewer than 100 cases a year occur in this country. Let’s work to keep it that way.
John Cranwell, M.D.
Memorial Health Partners
2600 Taft Highway, Signal Mountain, TN