What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by a toxin (poison) made by bacteria. It causes painful muscle stiffness and can be deadly.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Tetanus in children starts with headache, jaw cramping, and muscle spasms (sudden, involuntary muscle tightening).

It also causes the following:

  • Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Seizures (jerking or staring)
  • Fever and sweating
  • High blood pressure and fast heart rate

Tetanus is often called “lockjaw” because the jaw muscles tighten, and the person cannot open his mouth.

Is it serious?

Tetanus is very dangerous. It can cause breathing problems, muscle spasms, and paralysis (unable to move parts of the body). Muscle spasms can be strong enough to break a child's spine or other bones.

It can take months to recover fully from tetanus. A child might need weeks of hospital care. As many as 1 out of 5 people who get tetanus dies.

How could my child get tetanus?

The bacteria that cause tetanus are found in soil. They get into the body through a puncture, cut, or sore of the skin. A person can also be infected after a burn or an animal bite.

Tetanus does not spread from one person to another.

What is the best way to protect against tetanus?

The best way to protect against tetanus is by getting the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shot (also called the DTap shot). Doctors recommend that all children get the vaccine.

Is the tetanus still occurring in India?

Yes, tetanus is still occurring in India. However, the incidence of tetanus in India has declined sharply from 45,948 cases in 1980 to only 2,404 cases in 2012.

Why should my child get the DTP vaccine?

The DTP shot:

  • Protects your child from tetanus, a potentially serious disease (and also protects against diphtheria and whooping cough)
  • Protects your child from painful muscle stiffness from tetanus
  • Keeps your child from missing school or childcare (and keeps you from missing work to care for your sick child)

Is the DTP vaccine safe?

Yes. The DTP vaccine is very safe, and it is effective at preventing tetanus. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Most children who get the shot have no side effects.

What are the side effects?

Most children don’t have any side effects from the shot. When side effects do occur, they are usually mild and may include:

  • Redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

These types of side effects happen in about 1 child out of every 4 children who get the shot.

More serious side effects are very rare but can include:

  • A fever over 105 degrees
  • Nonstop crying for 3 hours or more
  • Seizures (jerking or twitching of the muscles or staring)
  • What is the schedule of DTP vaccine?

    Doctors recommend that your child get five doses of the DTP vaccine for best protection. Your child will need one dose at each of the following ages:

    • 6 weeks
    • 10 weeks
    • 14 weeks
    • 15 through 18 months, and
    • 4 through 6 years of age.


    • Tetanus and the Vaccine (Shot) to Prevent It. Available from: www.cdc.gov
    • IAP Guidebook on Immunization 2013-14. Available from: www.iapindia.org