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Tetanus Shot Important for Adults, Not Just Kids

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

My kids have just gotten their series of immunizations from their pediatrician, and I was just wondering about the tetanus shot. I don't remember when I last had one, but is a tetanus shot necessary for adults too, or just children?


Shot Significant?

Dear Shot Significant,

Yes, a tetanus shot is important for adults, too. Tetanus is a possibly fatal disease that is preventable with immunization. Teenagers and adults should receive a combined shot tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td vaccine) every 10 years.

Tetanus bacteria affect the central nervous system and one symptom is stiffness of the jaw, commonly called lockjaw. People often think lockjaw is only contracted from a puncture wound from a rusty nail. But, tetanus bacteria are common indoors and outdoors and can be enter the body through tiny cuts, scratches, or splinters in the skin. Besides lockjaw, other symptoms of tetanus infection include headache, stiffness of the abdominal and back muscles, painful muscle spasms, sweating and fever.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases at reports that approximately 11% of reported cases of tetanus are fatal. In the U.S., where 50 or fewer cases of tetanus occur each year, deaths are more likely to occur in persons 60 years of age and older.

You can obtain a tetanus shot from your physician, local health department, or hospital emergency room.

For more information on tetanus, see the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases at