Tetanus (lockjaw) infections are very rare in Canada. You can help prevent tetanus by having all of the suggested tetanus shots (immunizations). There are three different types of tetanus shots. Immunization schedules vary in each province and territory. Ask your immunization health professional what shots are right for you.
Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The tetanus bacteria get in a wound through a break in the skin or mucous membrane. A cut, puncture wound, deep scrape, deep burn, or any injury that breaks the skin or mucous membrane are called wounds.
The spores grow into bacteria best when they are not around oxygen and then make a toxin, or poison, that causes severe muscle spasms and seizures. Tetanus is also called "lockjaw" because muscle spasms in your jaw make it hard to open your mouth. This makes it hard to swallow or breathe. Tetanus can be very dangerous and can cause death. The best way to prevent the disease is to have a tetanus shot if you need one.
How can I tell if I need a tetanus shot?
To decide if you need a tetanus shot, first decide if the object that caused the wound was dirty or clean. An object is dirty if it has been exposed to the environment, including dirt, soil, spit, or feces on it. A clean object does not have dirt, soil, spit, or feces on it.
You will need a tetanus shot if:
Your wound was caused by something that was clean and your last tetanus shot was longer than 10 years ago.
Your wound was caused by something that was dirty and your last tetanus shot was longer than 5 years ago.
You are not sure if your wound was caused by something clean or dirty and your last tetanus shot was longer than 5 years ago.
You are not sure when you had your last tetanus shot.
You did not get the first series of tetanus shots (primary vaccination series).
If you need a tetanus shot due to a dirty wound, call your doctor to arrange for a shot as soon as possible.
Some people may need tetanus immunoglobulin (IG) for a wound that is at high risk for developing tetanus. The immunoglobulin is usually only needed if you have not (or do not know if you have) completed the tetanus primary vaccination series.
What should I do if I have a reaction to a tetanus shot?
If you have a reaction to a tetanus shot, your symptoms may include warmth, swelling, redness at the site where the shot was given or a fever.
Put an ice pack on the area where the shot was given for 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day for the first 24 to 48 hours. After 48 hours, heat may feel better.
Talk to your doctor or public health nurse before you give medicine to reduce a fever in a baby who is 3 months of age or younger. This is to make sure a young baby's fever is not a sign of a serious illness.
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