Tetanus is a serious bacterial wound infection that progresses from local muscle spasms to inability to open the mouth (lockjaw), total body rigidity, and seizures. There is no antibiotic treatment for tetanus, so you need to have the shot for protection against the infection. Tetanus is preventable if your child’s shots (DTaP immunizations and tetanus boosters) are kept up-to-date. Parents who refuse to get their child immunized, put their child at risk for tetanus since all children eventually get a dirty cut.
The need for a tetanus booster depends on the type of wound (whether or not it is tetanus-prone) and when your child last had a tetanus shot. All puncture wounds and all cuts (breaks in the skin) caused by an unclean object pose a risk of tetanus. Cuts from a clean knife or piece of glass are not tetanus-prone wounds; neither are minor burns or scrapes because these injuries have good exposure to air. The tetanus bacteria can multiply only if buried in a wound where no air is present.
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Call within 24 hours if:
The wound is dirty or involves soil and your child has not had a tetanus booster in the last 5 years.
Call during office hours if:
Your child has a wound from a clean object and has not had a tetanus booster in the last 10 years. (All immunized children and adults need a tetanus booster every 10 years). A type of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster called a Tdap shot is now recommended for teens.
Getting a tetanus booster is not an emergency. Try to get the shot within 3 days of the injury. The bacteria multiply if they become trapped in a wound and you are not immunized.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of â€œMy Child Is Sick,â€ American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2010-08-26 Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.