VNAA - Visiting Nurse Associations of America


Prevent Tetanus and Diphtheria

Tetanus and diphtheria are two infectious diseases that are serious and potentially fatal. Fortunately, reliable protection against both diseases is available through immunization with a primary series of shots and routine preventive boosters every 10 years.


Tetanus - A disease of the nervous system caused by bacteria. Tetanus (lockjaw) is a serious disease that causes painful tightening of the muscles, usually all over the body. It can lead to "locking" of the jaw so the victim cannot open his mouth or swallow. Tetanus leads to death in about one in 10 cases.
Diphtheria - A respiratory disease caused by bacteria. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, which can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and death.


Tetanus - Early symptoms: lockjaw, stiffness in the neck and abdomen, and difficulty swallowing. Later symptoms: severe muscle spasms, generalized tonic seizure-like activity, severe autonomic nervous system disorders.
Diphtheria - Gradual onset of a sore throat and low-grade fever.


Tetanus -Enters the body through a break in the skin.
Diphtheria - Spread by coughing and sneezing.

Vaccination (for Tetanus and Diphtheria):

There are four combination vaccines used to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis: DTaP, Tdap, DT, and Td. Two of these (DTaP and DT) are given to children younger than seven years of age, and two (Tdap and Td) are given to older children and adults.

Children should get five doses of DTaP, one dose at each of the following ages: two, four, six, and 15-18 months and four to six years. DT doesn't contain pertussis, and is used as a substitute for DTaP for children who cannot tolerate pertussis vaccine.

Td is a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine given to adolescents and adults as a booster shot every 10 years, or after an exposure to tetanus under some circumstances. Tdap is similar to Td but also containing protection against pertussis. A single dose of Tdap is recommended for adolescents 11 or 12 years of age, or in place of one Td booster in older adolescents and adults age 19 through 64.

(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.)

Who Should be Vaccinated?

Everyone needs protection from tetanus and diphtheria.. If you haven't had a booster shot in 10 years or more or never had the initial three-shot series, you should be vaccinated.

Who Should NOT get Vaccinated (DTap Vaccine for Tetanus and Diphtheria)?

Some children should not get DTaP vaccine or should wait. Children with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated but children who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting DTaP vaccine. Any child who had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of DTaP should not get another dose.

Parents and care takers should talk to your health professionals if your child has had a seizure or collapsed after a dose of DTaP; has cried non-stop for three hours or more after a dose of DTaP; or has had a fever of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher after a dose of DTaP.

Some of these children should not get another dose of pertussis, but may get a vaccine without pertussis, called DT. DTaP should not be given to anyone seven years of age or older. This information was taken directly from the CDC's Vaccine Information Statement.

Attention Healthcare Professionals

  • Read about the technical and clinical side of Tetanus and Diphtheria.

  • Read the newly published (May 14, 2008) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations on the "Prevention of Pertussis, Tetanus, and Diphtheria Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women and Their Infants," click here!

  • Printable guide to provide to parents on the side effects of the DTaP vaccine, click here!

  • Printable Parent's Guide for distribution on Tetanus and vaccination, click here!

  • Printable Parent's Guide for distribution on Diphtheria and Childhood Immunization, click here!

  • Tetanus and Diphtheria "Ask the Experts," click here!

  • Have a question about tetanus, click here!

Information on this page was taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Websites. Links to these organizations and information found at this site are provided solely as a service to our members. The VNAA is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at these links.

** Page updated on 9/10/2008

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