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The tetanus vaccines

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer who has strung words together for Babble.com, YourTango.com and Kiwi Magazine. Her award-winning columns about parenting in a small town are available on Inside Out jeannesager.blogspot.com.

Preventing tetanus

Better known as lockjaw, tetanus is a deadly disease that can be prevented with a number of tetanus vaccines.

Man with lock jawWhat is it?

Five vaccines prevent tetanus, a bacteria that enters the bloodstream through a deep wound. Often contracted through puncture wounds (for instance, from stepping on a dirty nail) insect stings, animal bites, or burns that leave the skin open to infection, tetanus causes the muscles of the body to contract, leading to paralysis and difficulty breathing.

Who gets it?

The DTaP vaccine, which fights tetanus along with diphtheria and pertussis, is administered to children under age 7, meted out in five separate injections from the time a child is 2 months to 6 years old.

The Tdap vaccine, which also fights all three, is administered to kids ages 11 and up, to women planning pregnancy or who have just delivered a baby, and to adults who did not receive the Tdap as children.

The DT vaccine is given to children under age 7 who have had an extreme reaction to the DTaP. It immunizes kids against tetanus and diphteria, but not pertussis.

The Td vaccine is given every 10 years to adults as a booster to protect them from tetanus and diphtheria.

The TT vaccine is rarely administered but can be given to adults to fight tetanus by itself.

What are the side effects?

Symptoms for the various vaccines vary, but redness and soreness at the injection site is common, as is swelling. For DTaP, mild side effects are relatively common, including low-grade fever and redness, swelling, soreness and tenderness at the injection site, most often following the fourth or fifth DTaP dose. Crankiness, tiredness and a loss of appetite have also been reported.

Vaccine recommendations

Because lockjaw progress rapidly and is deadly, healthcare officials recommend Americans receive a booster shot at a minimum of every 10 years to protect themselves from tetanus. If you receive a deep cut, your doctor may recommend another shot even sooner.

What you need to know

Only 40 to 60 cases of tetanus are reported annually in the United States, but of them, 30 percent die from the disease.

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