How Long Does a Tetanus Shot Last?

Know how often you need to get a tetanus booster

The immune protection from a tetanus shot doesn't last forever. That's why it's recommended that older children, teens, and adults 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 haven't had a tetanus shot in the past five years.

This article reviews what tetanus is and why vaccinating against it is so important. It also discusses the four types of tetanus shots and why children and adults need to get a tetanus booster shot as often as they do.

Why a Tetanus Shot Doesn't Last

Tetanus booster shots are necessary because of how tetanus vaccines are made.

Tetanus vaccines are inactivated vaccines, which are made from a killed bacterium or virus. This differs from live attenuated vaccines made from a weakened live bacterium or virus, such as the hepatitis B vaccine.

Live attenuated vaccines prompt an immune response that is similar to that of a natural infection, which leads to longer-lasting protection from it. The reaction spurred by an inactivated vaccine simply isn't as strong or durable because the bacterium or virus in the shot is killed.

A tetanus booster essentially functions to "remind" your body about how to respond to a tetanus infection as its "memory" begins to wane.

Importance of Up-to-Date Tetanus Vaccination

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

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

If left untreated, tetanus symptoms can lead to:

Untreated tetanus causes death in 10% to 20% of people with symptomatic disease, mainly older people.

Everyone Is at Risk

Tetanus is transmitted when you touch something that contains the bacteria and it enters your skin through a cut, puncture, burn, or any other break in the skin. (Tetanus cannot be spread from person to person.)

The bacteria that cause tetanus are in many parts of the environment, so anyone has the potential for infection. Many people associate tetanus with a wound exposed to rust. It's not the rust itself that is the concern—it's the bacteria it harbors, which could also be on other objects as well. C. tetani can remain inactive but infectious for up to 40 years.

How Common Is Tetanus?

Tetanus is rare in the United States. There are only about 30 cases reported each year. Almost all of these involve adults who never had a tetanus shot or their recommended boosters.

Tetanus Shot Types and How Often to Get One

It's important that children get the shots in their initial vaccination series on time and that everyone eligible for booster shots get them every 10 years.

Healthcare providers also recommend a tetanus booster shot if you get a particularly nasty, open wound and it has been five years or more since your last tetanus shot, or if you're unsure of your vaccination status. Public health officials also often offer tetanus boosters after natural disasters, including floods.

There are four versions of tetanus shots:

  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) for children under 7
  • DT (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) for children under 7; this is not used as often as DTap, due to the added protection that vaccine provides
  • Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) for booster vaccines for older children and adults
  • Td (diphtheria, tetanus) for booster vaccines for older children and adults

Which are recommended when and for whom largely depends on one's age.

Initial Vaccination and Boosters (Childhood to Age 18)

The Schedule of DTaP Shots for Kids
Verywell / JR Bee

The first DTaP immunizations start when children are very young.

DTaP shots for young children are typically given at the following ages and intervals:

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

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

Teens are advised to get a booster Tdap shot between 11 years to 12 years. If they miss this, it's OK for them to get a Tdap between 13 years and 18 years.

Booster Recommendations for Adults

Adults can get a Td or Tdap booster every 10 years.

Adults who never had Tdap should get one shot, regardless of whether or not they have ever had a Td shot (or when). Thereafter, they can follow the guidelines for all adults.

Tdap vs Td: Does It Matter Which Booster I Get?

Tdap and Td vaccines can both be given as booster shots. Both provide immune protection from tetanus and diphtheria, but only Tdap provides protection for pertussis (whooping cough).

Some reasons Tdap may be recommended for your tetanus booster shot:

  • You're 65 or older: Tdap vaccines are favored over Td if you're age 65 and older, given the added risks of infection in this age group.
  • Where you live: Whooping cough has been on the rise, especially in California. Because of this, healthcare providers provide Tdap shots to teens and adults at least once during their routine 10-year booster schedule.
  • Where you work: You may need the added protection against pertussis if you work in a setting such as a hospital, school, or childcare center.
  • Who you interact with: Tdap may be recommended if you, for example, live with an older loved one or a very small child.

A Td booster may be recommended if:

  • You are getting vaccinated because of an injury, rather than because you're scheduled for a booster
  • You have a documented severe allergic reaction to diphtheria toxoid (rare)
  • You are pregnant

If you're unsure about what to get (or what you are receiving and why), speak to your healthcare team.

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 only a few side effects, such as injection site soreness, and possibly mild fever and body aches that resolve within a day.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do you have to get a tetanus shot after a cut?

    Do not delay in seeing a healthcare provider if you have a deep, puncture or if a cut is contaminated with soil or feces. Tetanus can start having effects within days of infection.

  • How soon do tetanus symptoms start?

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

  • What are the warning signs of tetanus?

    The most common first sign of tetanus is muscle spasms in the jaw, or lockjaw. You may experience a headache, jaw cramping, trouble swallowing, fever, or stiff muscles.

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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  2. Bae C, Bourget D. Tetanus. In: StatPearls [Internet].

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About tetanus.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diptheria, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know.

  5. Finkelstein P, Teisch L, Allen CJ, Ruiz G. Tetanus: A potential public health threat in times of disaster. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2017;32(3):339-42. doi:10.1017/S1049023X17000012

  6. Havers FP, Moro PL, Hunter P, Hariri S, Bernstein H. Use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis Vaccines: updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:77-83. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a5

  7. Kardas Nelson M. Despite high rates of vaccination, pertussis cases are on the rise. Is a new vaccination strategy needed?. BMJ. 2019;366:I4460. doi:10.1136/bmj.l4460

  8. UpToDate. Wound management and tetanus prophylaxis.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tetanus: Symptoms and complications.

Additional Reading
  • World Health Organization. Tetanus.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.