Puncture wounds or other deep cuts, animal bites, or particularly dirty wounds put you at increased risk of tetanus infection. Get medical attention if the wound is deep and dirty, and particularly if you're unsure of when you were last vaccinated. Leave unclean wounds open to avoid trapping bacteria in the wound with a bandage.
Your doctor may need to clean the wound, prescribe an antibiotic and give you a booster shot of the tetanus toxoid vaccine. If you've previously been immunized, your body should quickly make the needed antibodies to protect you against tetanus.
If you have a minor wound, these steps will help prevent tetanus:
- Control bleeding. Apply direct pressure to control bleeding.
- Keep the wound clean. After the bleeding stops, rinse the wound thoroughly with clean running water. Clean the area around the wound with soap and a washcloth. If something is embedded in a wound, see your doctor.
Use an antibiotic. After you clean the wound, apply a thin layer of an antibiotic cream or ointment, such as the multi-ingredient antibiotics Neosporin and Polysporin. These antibiotics won't make the wound heal faster, but they can discourage bacterial growth and infection.
Certain ingredients in some ointments can cause a mild rash in some people. If a rash appears, stop using the ointment.
- Cover the wound. Exposure to the air might speed healing, but bandages can keep the wound clean and keep harmful bacteria out. Blisters that are draining are vulnerable. Keep them covered until a scab forms.
- Change the dressing. Apply a new dressing at least once a day or whenever the dressing becomes wet or dirty to help prevent infection. If you're allergic to the adhesive used in most bandages, switch to adhesive-free dressings or sterile gauze and paper tape.
You can easily prevent tetanus by being immunized.
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 is 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
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 a Td booster every 10 years thereafter. If you've never received a dose of Tdap, substitute it for your next Td booster dose and then continue with Td boosters.
If you're traveling internationally, particularly to a developing country where tetanus might be common, make sure your immunity is current.
To stay up to date with all of your vaccinations, ask your doctor to review your vaccination status regularly.
If you weren't vaccinated against tetanus as a child, see your doctor about getting the Tdap vaccine.
Aug. 08, 2017