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Tetanus and Pertussis Vaccine

Why get vaccinated?

Tetanus and pertussis are serious diseases.

Tetanus (also called "lockjaw") is caused by bacteria usually found in soil, dust, and manure. Unlike other diseases for which people receive vaccines, tetanus is not contagious (it is not spread from person to person). A person gets tetanus from the environment. The tetanus bacteria enter the body through an opening in the skin – the size of the opening can range from a tiny pinprick or scratch to a cut to a deep puncture wound, such as that caused by a nail or knife. Tetanus can be an aftermath of severe burns, ear infections, tooth infections, and animal bites. Contrary to popular belief, rusty nails do not cause tetanus. It’s the bacteria that cause the disease, and the bacteria can be present on a rusty nail, a shiny nail, or many other objects that come into contact with an opening in the skin.

Symptoms and course: Headache, crankiness and spasms of the jaw muscles are the first symptoms to develop; appearing from 3 days to 3 weeks after tetanus enters the body. As the tetanus toxin (poison) spreads, it can cause painful muscle contractions in the neck, arms, legs, and stomach. Severe spasms in the jaw can cause it to lock so the patient cannot open his/her mouth or swallow. Several weeks of hospitalization may be needed to recover from tetanus. In the United States, about 50 cases a year occur, and 3 in 10 people who get tetanus die from it.

Diphtheria is caused by bacteria that live in the mouth, throat and nose of an infected person and are spread to others through coughing or sneezing. A person who has diphtheria can spread it to others during the first 2 to 4 weeks they are infected.

Symptoms and course: Sore throat, slight fever and chills are early symptoms, appearing 2 to 4 days after exposure to diphtheria. Sometimes a thick coating occurs in the nose and back of the throat, making it hard to swallow or even breathe. Other problems include heart failure and paralysis. About 1 person in 10 who get diphtheria dies from it.

Pertussis (whooping cough) is caused by highly contagious bacteria that live in the mouth, throat and nose of an infected person. It is spread to others during coughing or sneezing or through direct contact with discharges form the nose or throat of the infected person.

Symptoms and course: Symptoms include severe coughing spells – so bad infants can hardly eat, drink, or breathe. Spells can last for weeks. Condition leads to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death.

Vaccination is the best way to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. If it weren’t for vaccines and immunization programs that began in the 1920s and continue to this day, many more people would get these diseases and would die from these diseases.

Who should get the vaccine?

The tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccines are almost always given to children together as a combination vaccine called DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and acellular Pertussis). Children should get a total of 5 doses of DTaP vaccines before they reach 6 years of age. The tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td), given together as a single vaccine, is intended for children ages 7 and older and for adults. It does not contain the pertussis vaccine and has less diphtheria toxoid than the DTaP vaccine. The first dose of Td is recommended at either 11 to 12 or 14 to 16 years of age, with additional doses given every 10 years throughout life. Other vaccination and booster dose schedules to meet particular needs or situations (e.g., health care workers who have direct patient contact, adults who are expected to have close contact with an infant younger than 12 months of age, an adolescent or adult with a severe cut or burn) should be discussed with each patient’s health care professional.

Is there anyone who should not receive the Td vaccine?

Tell your doctor or nurse if the person getting the vaccine:

  • Has ever had a serious allergic reaction or other problem with Td or any other tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (DTaP or diphtheria/tetanus vaccine),
  • Currently has a moderate or severe illness,
  • Is pregnant

What are the risks from the Td vaccine?

Vaccines, like any medicine, can cause serious problems, up to and including death. But this risk is very small. The harm from these diseases, if people stopped being vaccinated, outweigh the vaccine risks. Nonetheless, some of the problems that can develop include:

Mild problems: Examples of these problems include soreness, redness, or swelling at the vaccination site. These problems start within hours to a day or two of the shot and last 1 to 2 days.

Severe problems: These problems are rare but include deep, aching pain and decrease in muscle mass in the upper arm that received the vaccine and serious allergic reaction (e.g., development of skin rash and swelling; difficulty breathing, hoarseness, wheezing; high fever; fast heart beat; dizziness).

What should be done if a serious reaction occurs?

  • Call your doctor or get the person to a doctor right away.
  • Tell the doctor what symptoms have occurred, the time and date they occurred, and when the vaccine was received.
  • Ask the doctor to file a vaccine adverse event report form.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/30/2008...#12328