How Long Does a Tetanus Shot Last? What You Need to Know

Why you need a tetanus shot

Accidents happen.

You step on a rusty nail or cut your hand on a sharp piece of metal.

Your doctor asks when you had your last tetanus shot, but you can’t seem to remember that far back.

It’s likely time for a tetanus booster, says Thomas Murray, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine and the associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital in Connecticut.

When it comes to tetanus, you’re always better safe than sorry, he says.

Commonly known as “lockjaw,” tetanus is an infection caused by soil-dwelling bacteria known as Clostridium tetani.

When this bacterium enters your body, it produces a toxin that causes painful muscle contractions and rigidity. Your neck and jaw muscles can lock, making it hard to open your mouth or swallow, Dr. Murray explains.

“It’s very rare, but tetanus can be a serious and life-threatening disease,” says Dr. Murray.

What is tetanus?

Many vaccine-preventable diseases are contagious. Not tetanus.

Instead, tetanus usually develops from a dirty wound. The bacteria in soil, dust, and manure enter your body through a break in your skin, causing infection.

You can contract tetanus through:

  • Dirty wounds
  • Puncture wounds
  • Burns
  • Crush injuries
  • Injuries involving dead tissue
  • Surgeries
  • Insect bites
  • Dental infections
  • Fractures when bone is exposed
  • Chronic sores and infections
  • Intravenous (IV) drug use
  • Shots given in a muscle

“The bacteria start growing in the tissue and releases minute amounts of neurotoxins,” explains Nicolai van Oers, PhD, a professor of immunology at UT Southwestern in Dallas.

The good news? Tetanus is uncommon in the United States. There are about 30 cases per year, thanks to the effectiveness and widespread use of the tetanus vaccine and booster shots.

Nearly all U.S. cases of tetanus occur in people who did not get all of their recommended tetanus vaccinations, including 10-year booster shots, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

(Here are some more signs of skin irritation to watch out for.)

© Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images

How long does a tetanus shot last?

Tetanus vaccines are a part of the normal childhood immunization schedule, but boosters are necessary around every 10 or so years, Dr. Murray says.

Both DTaP and Tdap protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis). Learn more about the differences between these vaccines.

We all should receive five doses of DTaP at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and then again at age 4 or 6. A booster (Tdap) is recommended at age 11 or 12, according to the CDC.

Getting the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy is one of the best ways to keep babies safe.

The tetanus vaccine is safe, Dr. Murray says. The main side effect is pain or soreness at the injection site.

Preventing tetanus

When it comes to tetanus, prudence and prevention go a long way.

Keeping up to date on all vaccines—including tetanus—is essential.

“We are in a setting now due to Covid-19 when people have not been able to access health care, and we know kids are behind in their routine vaccines,” Dr. Murray says.

“We also know that kids are getting injured and getting cuts all the time.”

(Parents also need to be up-to-date on all of their vaccinations.)

Booster shots are important, too.

“If the wound is deep enough to require stitches or medical attention, or just doesn’t look very good and you don’t know when you got your last tetanus shot, a booster won’t cause any damage,” van Oers says.

Doctors can test your blood to see if you have antibodies to tetanus from previous vaccinations, he says.

Half of the antibodies generated by the tetanus vaccine may last up to 14 years, which is longer than previously thought, van Oers says. (This is known as the half-life.)

But some people produce fewer antibodies than others, he notes.

Antibodies don’t tell the full story either, he explains.

“Your body will also remember tetanus, even if you are low on antibodies,” he says. “Your body will immediately see it as foreign, and then your B-cells, which are antibody-manufacturing cells, will crank out antibodies as soon as the threat comes on.”

Still, your best bet is to get a booster if you sustain a dirty wound and don’t know when you had your last tetanus shot, he says.

Treating ‘lockjaw’

There are no tests that can say for certain whether you have tetanus.

If your doctor suspects tetanus during a physical exam due to painful muscular spasms in your neck and jaw or other signs, you will likely be hospitalized.

Other telltale tetanus symptoms may include:

Tetanus is treated with human tetanus immune globulin (TIG). “This is a serum that has antibodies against tetanus in it,” van Oers says.

Aggressive wound care along with drugs to control muscle spasms and a course of antibiotics is also necessary.

The last word

Tetanus is preventable if you stay on top on your vaccines and make sure your loved ones do the same. Make sure you get a booster every 10 to 14 years.

Next, check out a few other things that actually aren’t contagious.

Eat a few Brazil nuts each day

These nuts are rich in selenium, a protective mineral. In a five-year study, men who took 200 mcg of selenium daily had 63 percent fewer prostate tumors. Brazil nuts are the best food source: just one nut can contain 75 mcg. Learn more about what brazil nut nutrition has to offer.

To learn more about the role of selenium in prostate cancer risk reduction, take a look at this 2019 study by Mark A Moyad, MD, MPH.

Munch pumpkin seeds

These are a source of zinc, a mineral that scientists agree plays a significant role in boosting prostate health, protecting against enlargement and cancerous changes. Have a handful of unroasted seeds a day. Other foods that contain a plentiful supply of zinc include shellfish, meat, milk and dairy products, wheatgerm, and wholegrain cereals. Zinc supplements, however, have been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Besides fighting cancer, zinc may also boost your sex-drive and give you more energy in the bedroom.

Enjoy more mackerel

There are lots of good reasons to eat oily fish (a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that could add years to your life), such as mackerel or salmon, or take supplements of fish oil, and here’s another. In a study, a low-fat diet with fish oil supplements eaten for four to six weeks before prostate removal was shown to slow the growth of prostate cancer. Those following the diet had fewer rapidly dividing cells in their prostate cancer tissue compared to those who were eating traditional, high-fat Western foods. Linseed oil is another excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids; add a tablespoon of the oil to your food every day for prostate health. If you hate seafood, try these foods packed with just as many omega-3 fatty acids as fish!

Try croton oil

Researchers in a lab study found that the oil from the croton planta shrub native to Southeast Asiakilled off prostate cancer cells and shrank prostate tumors. Ask your doctor if this natural remedy could work for you. Stop believing these myths about prostate cancer right now.

Eat more tomatoes

Men who had ten or more portions of tomatoes a week cut their risk of prostate cancer by more than 45 percent in one recent U.S. study. Lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color, interferes with the ability of cancer cells to multiply, spread and invade body tissues. Tinned and cooked tomatoes and tomato sauces seem to have the most potent anticancer effect. Check out this list of other foods that are way healthier than you could imagine.

Watch your fat intake

Numerous studies link a high-fat diet and obesity with an increased risk of cancers of the colon, prostate, uterus and breast, and melanoma. Limit saturated fats to less than 10 percent of your total calories each day. Try swapping out the bad fats for healthy fats like monounsaturated fats.

Don’t overdose on vitamin supplements

Vitamins are good for your immune system, but not if you take too many of them. Make sure to get as many vitamins as possible from fresh food (red peppers, garlic, and quinoa are just a few items on the list of superfoods every man needs in his diet), and choose and use supplements sensibly. Take special care with vitamins E and A, which are stored in the body if taken in excess, rather than simply being excreted in the urine. In doses above 250 mg a day, vitamin E can impair, rather than enhance, the day-to-day renewal of body cells, increasing the risk of prostate and other cancers. You need vitamin A to help build immune cells, but supplement doses above 1,000 mcg a day put you at risk of serious liver disease. More than 200 mg a day of vitamin B6 can permanently damage nerves. Doctors say you need to stop wasting your money on these vitamins.

Got heart problems? Ask your doctor about a daily aspirin

If your doctor thinks aspirin is a good way lower your heart attack risk, know that this powerful medicine also has a potential cancer-fighting benefit. Daily aspirin dose may help to prevent the growth of tumors in the prostate, breast, and esophagus. It may also provide some protection against the spread of some types of lung cancer. And a new study shows that these three foods are also surprisingly powerful weapons in fighting prostate cancer — apples, grapes, and curry. Here are the signs of prostate cancer you should never ignore.

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