Working and playing outside does come with a little risk: Kids fall down and scrape themselves; you might accidentally injure yourself on that gardening project; or you might even be exposed to a raccoon or stray dog or cat while you’re outside enjoying yourself. Are you prepared?
With any injury comes the risk of infection, but certain injuries (such as animal bites, scrapes by rusty metal, or getting dirt into an open wound) lend themselves more to a tetanus infection. Tetanus is often referred to as “lock-jaw” due to one of its symptoms. A tetanus infection (caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani) is a very dangerous infection that results in as many as 20% of its victims dying.
Tetanus is an easily-preventable infection if the proper steps are taken. Almost all children begin a series of vaccinations from shortly after the time they’re born all the way through their childhood. The vaccine for tetanus is given in a combination called DTaP, which also includes vaccines for Diphtheria and Pertussis. This is normally given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years of age. A booster shot is normally given between 11-12 years. After you become an adult, however, you are responsible for keeping up with your booster shots. For tetanus, the CDC recommends one every 10 years.
Symptoms of tetanus can include headaches, crankiness, stiffness of the jaw muscles, and even muscle spasms. There is no cure for tetanus; once you are infected, doctors can only treat the symptoms until your body is able to fight off the infection. If you have an injury or bite that punctures the skin and you cannot remember having a tetanus booster within the last five years, you’ll need to seek the advice and treatment of a medical professional. If you are new to the area or do not have a primary physician that you regularly see, if may be helpful to have your vaccination history available for any questions the doctor will ask.
The tetanus shot itself is administered into your deltoid (shoulder) muscle. This can sometimes cause stiffness in the shoulder. If you’ve never finished your tetanus vaccine series, the doctor may give a second shot of something called TIG, or tetanus immune globulin. TIG gives your body an immediate boost of antibodies to fight off the possible infection before it begins.