Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invades the body, they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is "lockjaw" because it often causes a person's neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow.
Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases because it does not spread from person to person. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust and manure and enter the body through breaks in the skin - usually cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects.
Today, tetanus is uncommon in the United States, with an average of 29 reported cases per year from 1996 through 2009. Nearly all cases of tetanus are among people who have never received a tetanus vaccine, or adults who don't stay up to date on their 10-year booster shots.
Vaccines are recommended for infants, children, teens and adults to prevent tetanus.
Vaccine - Tdap, DTaP, DT or Td
Being fully immunized is the best tool to prevent tetanus. Tetanus vaccines are recommended for people of all ages, with booster shots throughout life.
Immediate and proper wound care can also help prevent infection. If you get a tetanus infection, you can still get it again someday if you're not protected by timely vaccination.
Tetanus vaccines are recommended throughout your life. There are four combination vaccines used to prevent tetanus: DTaP, Tdap, DT, and Td. Two of these (DTaP and DT) are given to children younger than 7 years of age, and two (Tdap and Td) are given to older children and adults. Several other combination vaccines contain DTaP along with other childhood vaccines.
Upper-case letters in these abbreviations denote full-strength doses of diphtheria (D) and tetanus (T) toxoids and pertussis (P) vaccine. Lower-case "d" and "p" denote reduced doses of diphtheria and pertussis used in the adolescent/adult-formulations. The "a" in DTaP and Tdap stands for "acellular," meaning that the pertussis component contains only a part of the pertussis organism. For more information, click here.
School Exclusion and Reportable to Public Health
A student with tetanus will not be excluded from school as it is not a "communicable" disease. Tetanus is not reportable to Public Health.
Though tetanus does not spread from person-to-person, the vaccine for tetanus is a required immunization for school entry in California through either DTP, DTaP, Td or Tdap vaccines. For more information about required immunizations for schools, click here.