You can easily prevent tetanus by being immunized against the toxin. Almost all cases of tetanus occur in people who've never been immunized or who haven't had a tetanus booster shot within the preceding 10 years.

The primary vaccine series

The tetanus vaccine usually is given to children as part of the diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. This vaccination provides protection against three diseases: a throat and respiratory infection (diphtheria), whooping cough (pertussis) and tetanus.

The DTaP vaccine consists of a series of five shots, typically given in the arm or thigh to children at ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years

The booster

A booster of the tetanus vaccine is typically given in combination with a booster of diphtheria vaccine (Td). In 2005, a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine was approved for use in teens and adults under age 65 to ensure continuing protection against pertussis, too.

It's recommended that adolescents get a dose of Tdap, preferably between the ages of 11 and 12, and that a Td booster be given every 10 years thereafter. If you've never received a dose of Tdap, substitute it for your next Td booster dose and then continue on with Td boosters.

If you're traveling internationally, it's a good idea to have up-to-date immunity because tetanus may be more common where you're visiting, especially if you're traveling to a developing country. If you receive a deep or dirty wound and it's been more than five years since your last booster shot, get another booster shot.

To stay up to date with all of your vaccinations, ask your doctor to review your vaccination status regularly.

If you were never vaccinated against tetanus as a child, see your doctor about getting the Tdap vaccine.

Apr. 24, 2013