Bacterial infections may cause different types of medical conditions. Most of them are quite common. Your body responds to such infections with an appropriate response. Of the many different types of conditions, tetanus is a serious infection which affects your nervous system. Tetanus shot is administered to prevent its onset. It is helpful to know the likely side effects of this vaccine.

Tetanus is also known as lockjaw. It tightens the muscles of your neck and jaw. Such muscular tension can eventually spread over to many other parts of your body. It can be a fatal condition if it is left untreated. As per the estimates of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC, mortality rate is between 1 to 2 deaths in every 10 cases of tetanus infection. The main trigger for this condition is a bacterial strand known as Clostridium tetani. These strands may be seen in animal droppings, dust as well as dirt. The germ finds its way into your body through a wound or a deep cut. Upon gaining entry into the wound, spores of the bacteria quickly reach your central nervous system (CNS). Once reaching there, the bacterial strands start to make a substance called tetanospasmin – a highly toxic chemical. Your muscles soon go directionless – i.e., unable to get needful messages from your nerves. As a result, your body experiences spasms.

Common signs of tetanus

This condition is not known to spread through person-to-person contact. Climate however plays a big role. It is common in damp and hot areas; especially, regions with dense population as well as fertile soil. A thorough cleaning of a wound or injury is required to avoid a possible risk of infection. In the event of a wound coming in touch with dust or soil, you may need to talk to a qualified medical practitioner to discuss the likely risks.

The first sign of tetanus is the difficulties experienced while swallowing food. This is mainly because of nerves controlling your muscles are infected by invading bacteria. It is also common to experience stiffened and cramped muscles in your neck, jaw, chest and stomach.

You may also experience other signs such as hypertension (increase in blood pressure), excessive sweating, arrhythmia (fast heartbeats) or fever. These first signs may start showing up anytime between 12 to 15 days from the time of a bacterial attack. It is often confirmed if the patient experiences painful cramps accompanied by stiffening of muscles. The signs of tetanus may bear some resemblances with rabies, meningitis, etc. Rabies however is triggered by a virus which results in inflammation of your brain; meningitis is caused by bacteria and affects your nervous system.

Due to these similarities, your treating doctor may suggest a few tests to rule out the other possibilities.

The tetanus shot

Vaccines can help in keeping you safe from these infections. However, you may need to follow a schedule to take the boosters. In the US, this condition is relatively rare because of the widespread availability of tetanus vaccine. It is administered onto children by making it a part of a shot given for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis. You may need to know that this shot does not render protection for a lifetime. So, a shot to boost your immunity level is given once the child reaches 12 years of age.

In your adulthood, the tetanus-diphtheria shot is given once in a decade to maintain the standards of your immunity, especially to fight a likely incidence of tetanus.

Tetanus shot is considered highly effective against preventing this condition. However, without proper care and treatment, the chances of survival are bleak. Mortality due to tetanus is relatively more pronounced among elders as well as younger adults, including children. Mortality rate is around 10% in the last few years. But, among untreated patients, the rate of mortality is as high as 21% or even more.

Side effects of tetanus shot

There are different types of shots administered to prevent tetanus. These are tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (DTaP) for very young children, Tdap given to adolescents as well as adults, Td for adults and DT for children. Td and DT are given to keep diphtheria and tetanus away. Most common side effects are mild in nature. Side effects are the same for all kinds of tetanus shots. Your doctor will advise you that these side effects are your body’s natural response and are also an indicator that your immune system is getting strengthened.

Foremost of all reactions, an immediate side effect is pain at the site of the shot. This is only a very short term discomfort. You will see it going away in three to four days. You are more likely to experience this side effect with Tdap – which is given to both slightly-older children and adults. If the pain leads to an inflammation, and if you find it discomforting, you may take a painkiller such as acetaminophen or other such painkilling drugs. You are likely to experience nausea or stomach upset along with diarrhea or vomiting, weariness, headache, fever, etc.

Nausea with a spell of vomiting or diarrhea is taken as a mild reaction to the vaccine. It may not be showing up in all adults; only 1 or 2 in every 10 people who have taken the Tdap shot may experience this effect. Your treating doctor will tell you to avoid foods that are difficult to digest as well as to consume a lot of fluids to remain well-hydrated.

Weariness may be an outcome of excessive drowsiness soon after taking the tetanus shot. This again is a very commonly experienced side effect. You need to take it as a sign of your body responding to the vaccine as well as strengthening of your immunity levels. Similarly, body pain or headache is a temporary reaction. You will soon find these effects going away. If your whole body is under pain and if you find it quite tiring, your doctor may administer suitable drugs to provide relief from pains.

It is very likely that the tetanus shot will trigger fever. You may find your body temperature reaching slightly more than 38 deg. Celsius (or, about 100 deg. Fahrenheit). You can take over the counter, pain relieving drugs such as tylenol or advil to manage fever.

Serious allergies and other side effects

The good thing about tetanus shot is, it very rarely triggers acute or serious reactions and side effects. Some allergies may occur; these include fast heart rates, excessive drowsiness and respiratory problems. Upon experiencing such signs, you are advised to consult your treating doctor without any delay.Very rarely experienced serious side effects may also include excessive swelling as well as mildly intolerable pain, especially at the site where the shot is given. If these effects are persisting for long or if you find it difficult to manage, you need to talk to your treating doctor as soon as possible.

If a prior shot of tetanus vaccine had triggered a few side effects as well as allergies, you need to remember them and tell your doctor before a shot is administered. Also, if you have a prior medical history of convulsions or other neurological conditions such as epileptic seizures, etc., you need to inform about them to your doctor. In general, note down all the changes your body experiences soon after a tetanus shot. If any of these reactions or side effects had been near-fatal, you will need to keep the medical team aware of such life-threatening experiences.

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