How Often Do I Need a Tetanus Booster Shot?

When you are initially vaccinated for tetanus as a child, the vaccine is bundled with other vaccines and given as a series of regularly scheduled shots. But the immune protection afforded by the tetanus component doesn't last forever.

Because of this, it's recommended that you get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years to stay protected. Tetanus shots are also given on demand if you get a deep, dirty cut (such as from stepping on a rusty nail) as a standard precaution if you have not been vaccinated against tetanus in the past five years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tetanus is rare in the United States. Only around 30 cases are reported each year, almost all of which involve adults who were never vaccinated or given their recommended boosters.

What Is a Tetanus Shot?

A tetanus shot (also known as tetanus toxoid) is a vaccine used to prevent tetanus. It can be given on its own in the event of a possible exposure but is typically bundled with at least one other vaccine. These include vaccines used to prevent the bacterial infections diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).

There are four versions used for childhood or booster vaccination:

  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) for children under 7
  • DT (diphtheria, tetanus) for children under 7
  • Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) for booster vaccinations for older children and adults
  • Td (diphtheria, tetanus) for booster vaccinations for older children and adults
The Schedule of DTaP Shots for Kids
Verywell / JR Bee

About Tetanus

Tetanus, also known as "lockjaw," is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani found in soil, dust, and animal feces. Once C. tetani enter the body, it secretes substances called tetanospasmin and tetanolysin that are toxic to the nervous system).

The toxins can cause severe and painful muscle spasms and contractions, leading to a cascade of potentially life-threatening symptoms, including:

After exposure to tetanus, it can take anywhere from three to 21 days for symptoms to develop. The timing depends largely on the extent and duration of the wound contamination. The average incubation period is 10 days.

If left untreated, tetanus symptoms can lead to bone fractures, pulmonary embolism, aspiration pneumonia, and asphyxiation. It causes death in between 10% and 20% of people with symptomatic disease, mainly older people.

Booster Recommendations

While the protection offered by some vaccines lasts a very long time (e.g., the hepatitis B vaccine), others need routine supplementation as immune "memory" begins to wane.

Those that tend to need boosting are inactivated vaccines made from a killed bacterium or virus (as opposed to live attenuated vaccines made from a weakened live bacterium or virus). Tetanus vaccines are made from inactivated tetanus toxoids.

It's important to get a tetanus booster every 10 years from your healthcare provider, either in the form of the Tdap or Td vaccine.

Due to the rise of whooping cough—such has been seen in California—healthcare providers provide Tdap shots to teens and adults at least once during their routine 10-year booster schedule.

Public health authorities also recommend a booster shot if you get a particularly nasty, open wound and it has been five years or more since your last tetanus shot (or you are unaware of your vaccination status).

In rare instances, the tetanus vaccine (called tetanus toxoid) is given on its own if a person has had a documented severe allergic reaction to diphtheria toxoid.

DTaP and Tdap Immunization Schedules

The first DTaP immunizations start when children are very young. DTaP shots for young children are typically given at:

  • 6 weeks to 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years

Thereafter, Tdap booster shots are given to ensure lasting protection against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

Adolescents are advised to get a booster Tdap shot at around 11 to 12 years. If they miss this, it is OK for them to get a Tdap between 13 and 18 years.

It is recommended that adults get a Tdap shot for one of their tetanus boosters. If you're 65 and over, Tdap vaccination is also recommended.

Transmission Risk

Many associate tetanus with a wound that is exposed to rust, but transmission has more to do with the dirt on the rusty object than the rust itself.

The bacteria that causes tetanus is found in many parts of the environment, and you can be exposed through a paper cut, a gaping wound, or anything in between.

The spores of C. tetani commonly found in soil and animal feces can remain inactive but infectious for up to 40 years. The spores can get into your body through any break in the skin, including cuts, punctures, burns, animal or human bites, and crush injuries.

Public health authorities will often offer tetanus boosters after a natural disaster, including floods. This is a precautionary measure to mitigate the increased risk of tetanus infection.

Tetanus cannot be spread from person to person.

A Word From Verywell

Tetanus is a serious disease that can be caused by any number of common injuries. It being rare in the United States does not mean vaccination recommendations can be disregarded.

Aside from routine boosters, if you get a cut worthy of stitches, a tetanus shot should always be considered. The shot itself causes little pain and few side effects other than injection site soreness and possibly mild fever and body aches (which tend to resolve within a day).

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine (shot) for tetanus. Updated August 2, 2019.

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Additional Reading
  • World Health Organization. Tetanus. Updated May 21, 2015.