Common questions about tetanus

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a bacterial disease that attacks the nervous system and results in muscle spasms, breathing difficulty, seizures and even death.

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What causes tetanus?

Tetanus is caused by bacteria. The bacteria lives in dirt, soil, manure or human stool, and causes disease when it enters a person’s body through any open cut or wound. This includes something as simple as a cut that gets dirt in it when gardening. Though many people think that tetanus is a risk only when a person is cut by a rusty object, the fact is, tetanus bacteria is risk for any open cut or wound.

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What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Tetatus is sometimes called “lockjaw” as the most immediate symptom of tetanus disease is a headache combined with a sore, stiff jaw. As the disease progresses, stiffness in the back, neck and shoulders, followed by extremely painful muscle spasms, can develop. In fact, sometimes, these muscle spasms are so severe that they can result in broken bones, and even lead to seizures and death.

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What can happen to my child if he or she gets tetanus?

Tetanus can cause your child to experience very painful muscle spasms so severe that they result in broken bones. Tetanus can also attack the muscles that control breathing, cause speech and memory problems, and even result in death.

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Is there a treatment or cure for tetanus?

While there is no cure for tetatus, there is a tetanus antitoxin that doctors will give in an attempt to save a patient’s life.

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What is the name of the immunization that includes protection against tetanus?

The DTaP-IPV-Hib, DTaP-IPV and dTaP vaccines will prompt your child’s immune system to build antibodies that will protect – or arm – your child against tetanus.

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At what age should my child be immunized against tetanus?

To be protected against tetanus, your child needs doses of the DTaP-IPV-Hib, DTaP-IPV and dTaP vaccines, at the ages and stages recommended in the routine schedule. Your child is recommended to receive the DTaP-IPV-Hib vaccine at two months of age, followed by a dose at four months of age, at six months of age, and at 18 months of age. Your child will then need a dose of the DTaP-IPV vaccine between four and six years of age. Finally, your child will need a dose of the dTaP vaccine between 14 and 16 years of age.

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Are there side effects to the tetanus vaccine?

Side effects of the tetanus vaccine are usually very mild, and temporary. Your child may have a slight fever, be fussy, sleepier or have less appetite than usual, and his or her arm or thigh might be a bit red or sore where the needle went in. These side effects are very common, usually happen about 12 to 24 hours after the immunization, and usually go away within a few days. For tips on managing symptoms following immunization, click here.

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Is this disease called any other names?

Tetanus is sometimes referred to as “lockjaw,” due to the stiffness that the disease can cause in the jaw.

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