Tetanus vaccines | Doses, and side effects

Tetanus vaccines

Tetanus vaccines were responsible for saving humanity, especially during World War II, when they became one of the routine vaccinations received by American soldiers.

The tetanus vaccines provide protection against tetanus for adults and children.

Therefore, let’s talk a little about the symptoms, side effects, and importance of those vaccines.

What is tetanus?

Lockjaw or tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria.

It releases a neurotoxin (tetanospasmin) that affects the brain and nervous system, causing painful muscle spasms.

Symptoms of tetanus

Symptoms often begin about a week after infection, but the incubation period is usually 3 to 21 days, possibly longer.

So generally, we can say that more contaminated wounds mean a shorter incubation time.

The symptoms of tetanus include:

  • Early symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and headache.
  • Muscle stiffness (starting with the jaw – the most common symptom, causing difficulty swallowing and closing the mouth – to the neck with severe breathing difficulties).
  • Abdominal and limb muscle pain.
  • Anxiety.
  • Sweat.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Hypertension.
  • Facial muscle spasms (results in a strange-looking fixed smile).
  • In severe cases, the curvature of the spine affects the back muscles.

How is tetanus transmitted?

Tetanus bacteria are common in soil, dust, and manure and can live a long time outside the body.

The good news is that tetanus cannot be transmitted from one person to another, while the bacteria can infect the body through:

  • Deep cuts and scrapes such as those from walking on a nail.
  • Skin cracks.
  • Burns.
  • Animal bites.
  • Tattoos.
  • Intravenous drug use.
  • Eye injuries.

Can tetanus be cured after the incubation period?

Most people with tetanus symptoms recover, but it may take several months.

You may be wondering now if tetanus is a deadly infection.

The upcoming segment will answer all your questions, so please stay tuned!

Is tetanus fatal?

Tetanus can cause death from airway obstruction during spasms or damage to nerves that regulate breathing, heartbeat, or other organ functions.

It is dangerous since it kills one to two out of every ten infected people, especially those aged 60 and above.

Consequently, timely diagnosis and treatment are critical.

However, as life-threatening, as tetanus is, it is still preventable by using the readily available tetanus vaccines.

What is the tetanus vaccination?

The tetanus vaccination is part of the recommended vaccination series for children and adults. 

It prevents bacterial infection of Clostridium tetani, causing the tetanus disease or lockjaw.

How do tetanus vaccines work?

The concept is to expose a person to a small dosage of killed or attenuated bacteria or a bacterial protein, which stimulates the body to develop antibacterial-specific antibodies.

However, vaccination does not treat an active infection that has already manifested, but it protects the body from future infections.

The importance of the tetanus vaccine

The tetanus vaccine protects against tetanus, avoiding the above symptoms and preventing the following:

  • Vocal cord spasms.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Severe muscle spasms that may lead to broken bones.
  • Blood clots in the lungs.

Types of tetanus vaccines

There are several types of tetanus vaccines, such as:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine: for children under seven years old.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccines: for older children and adults.
  • Diphtheria and tetanus (DT) vaccine: for infants and young children who have reacted to the pertussis vaccine.
  • Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine: a booster shot for older children and adults.

Importance of tetanus vaccination for pregnant women

In 2013, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that pregnant women receive an additional dose of the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine.

The booster dose protects both the mother and the baby from maternal and neonatal tetanus.

Tetanus is due to the use of contaminated instruments while cutting the umbilical cord or improper handling of the umbilical stump.

tdap during pregnancy

A pregnant woman holding her belly after taking the tetanus vaccines

A pregnant woman can take the tetanus vaccination at any time during pregnancy, preferably in the third trimester between the 27th and 36th week.

Tetanus Vaccine for Newly-Married women

One study reported that some females of reproductive age were vaccinated with the tetanus vaccine in Pakistan.

The women were divided into three groups: married-pregnant, married-non-pregnant, and unmarried, in order to survey the effectiveness of the vaccine.

What is the recommended vaccination schedule for tetanus?

The vaccine is taken in a series of shots and sometimes combined with other vaccines. 

Vaccine doses should be delivered at the following ages:

  • Two months.
  • Four months.
  • Six months.
  • From 15 to 18 months.
  • Also, at the age of 4 to 6 years.

Eleven and Twelve-year-old children should get boosters of tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough shots.

The protection provided by these vaccines does not last for life.

Therefore, a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster dose is recommended every ten years.

The tetanus vaccine should also be obtained for travel purposes, bearing in mind that; there is a one-month interval between each dose.

Complications of tetanus vaccination

The risks of tetanus infection outweigh the risks of receiving the vaccine.

It’s also impossible to get tetanus from a tetanus vaccine alone.

However, some mild side effects may occur, for example:

  • Injection site pain, redness, or edema
  • Fever.
  • Headache or body aches.
  • Feeling stressed.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Anorexia.
  • Agitation in infants and young children.

Lock jaw treatment                                                      

There is no cure for tetanus, but symptoms can be controlled by taking sedatives to control muscle spasms.

It also includes the following treatment:

  • Proper wound hygiene.
  • A tetanus immunoglobulin dose.
  • Medications to control muscle spasms.
  • Antibiotics, such as Neosporin or Polysporin.
  • A tetanus vaccine dose.
  • Respirators may be necessary, depending on the severity of the infection.

Tetanus immune globulin (tig)

It contains antibodies that stop the action of the tetanus toxin (tetanospasmin).

Tig provides immediate but short-term protection.

However, it only affects toxins that haven’t reached nerve cells yet, and it’s not a substitute for the tetanus vaccine.

When should you get a tetanus vaccine after a wound?

Good wound care and prompt treatment (usually the immunoglobulin) reduce the risk of infection but receiving a vaccine after a wound is the best way to protect against future disease.

Should I receive a tetanus vaccine within 24 hours of puncture wounds?

When suspecting tetanus infection or exposure to puncture wounds, seek medical help within 24 hours.

However, if you cannot remember the date of the last tetanus vaccine dose, you can take it within 48 hours of exposure.

Tetanus vaccines contraindications

You should not receive the tetanus vaccine when the following conditions occur:

  • Allergic reactions.
  • A history of coma or seizures after receiving the vaccine.
  • Epilepsy or nervous system problems.
  • Previous severe pain or swelling after receiving the vaccine.
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome.
  • Beeding or blood clotting disorders, such as hemophilia.
  • Weakened immune system or receiving treatments that weaken the immune system, such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Tetanus vaccines in Egypt

The continuation of routine tetanus toxoid administration is necessary to support the prevention of maternal and neonatal tetanus.

About 92% of children between 18 and 29 months were fully immunized in 2014 against tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, and polio.

Prevention of tetanus

There are several methods of tetanus prevention such as:

  • Follow up on the periodic vaccination schedule, and receive the booster doses mentioned above.
  • It is necessary to contact the health care provider and go to the emergency room in the event of this severe illness.
  • Take good care of wounds by washing them with clean water. 

It is also crucial to try to get any particles out of the wound.

Not only does proper wound care prevent tetanus infection but other bacterial infections as well.

What is the solution if the individual did not get the tetanus vaccine in childhood?

If the tetanus shot was not given in childhood, the initial tetanus toxoid vaccination package, consisting of three doses, should be taken.

Provided that, the time difference between the first and second doses is about four weeks at least.

The third dose will follow between 6 and 12 months later.

In conclusion, despite the importance of receiving tetanus vaccines, please consult your doctor or health care professional before obtaining them.

Also, don’t forget to mention any health problems or medications you are taking.

Read Also;

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Translated by
Dr. Basant Mohamed Atef

Translator. Dr. Basant Atef

I am a pharmacist with a Ph.D. in microbiology. Passionate about delivering medical sciences to others. I love explaining and researching medical information in both Arabic and English. It always bothered me that medical information in Arabic is so scarce, so I took it upon myself to help change that. So, I specialized in SEO medical content writing as well as medical translation. When I am not working on that, you’ll find me out exploring the world with my two wonderful boys.
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