Summer is primetime for tetanus infections, because children love to run around barefoot while enjoying the outdoors. Unfortunately, it is easy for young ones to come into contact with tetanus-bearing bacteria, which can be picked up from many sources. Most of us think of rusty nails as the most common source of tetanus, but bacteria in the soil, dust, and manure can all carry tetanus. Tetanus enters the body’s bloodstream through small cuts and sores, so children are especially susceptible to the disease. Early vaccination, starting at two months of age, is recommended by the Center for Disease Control.
Tetanus causes the symptom that is often called “lockjaw.” When a tetanus bacterium invades our body, a toxin is made that produces painful muscle contractions. The first symptoms are typically muscle pain in the neck and abdomen, which can actually cause the muscles to lock, making movement and swallowing difficult. Other symptoms include muscle pain all over the body, fever, sweating, respiratory difficulty, seizures and severe muscle spasms. Recovery from tetanus can take months and usually requires hospitalization for treatment. Tetanus can be fatal if not treated. It is estimated that one out of ten people who contract tetanus die from it.
Tetanus Vaccination Recommendations
The good thing about tetanus is that it’s not a contagious disease and it is easily preventable through vaccination. It doesn’t spread from person to person, so it is only contracted when coming into direct contact with a source of tetanus bacteria.
The most common vaccine is DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis), which is highly effective in preventing tetanus in young children. Shots for infants are recommended at 2, 4 and 6 months, and toddlers should receive shots again when they are between 15 to 18 months old. Children who are 4 through 6 years old should get a DTaP booster.
Because immunity to tetanus decreases as one ages, older children need a Tdap vaccine that has a full dose of tetanus but contains a lower dose of diphtheria and pertussis. Once children are in their preteens, they should get a Tdap vaccine during their regular annual checkups until they reach 18 years of age. The cost for tetanus vaccinations is covered by most health insurance providers. The vaccinations are considered safe and side effects are rare. It is important to ask your child’s primary care doctor for immunization records to make sure that their tetanus vaccines are up to date.
For further information about tetanus prevention, contact your pediatrician.