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Do I need a tetanus jab (vaccine) after an accident or injury?

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You may need a tetanus jab if the injury has broken your skin and your tetanus vaccinations aren't up-to-date.

Tetanus is a serious but rare condition that can be fatal if untreated.

The bacteria that can cause tetanus can enter your body through a wound or cut in your skin. They are often found in soil and manure.

When to seek medical advice

You should contact your GP or NHS 111 if you're concerned about a wound, particularly if:

  • the wound is deep
  • the wound contains dirt or a foreign object
  • you haven't been fully vaccinated against tetanus
  • you're not sure whether you've been fully vaccinated against tetanus

A doctor can assess the wound and decide if you need a vaccination or any other treatment.

You should immediately go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call emergency services for an ambulance if you develop severe muscle stiffness or spasms.

However, if you're not sure how many doses you've received, you may need a booster dose after an injury that breaks your skin.

If you've definitely received five doses of the tetanus vaccine, you are fully vaccinated and don't need a booster dose.

Treatment with tetanus immunoglobin

If you have a tetanus-prone wound, get medical treatment as soon as possible, even if you've been fully vaccinated.

Public Health England defines tetanus-prone wounds as:

  • wounds or burns that need surgery, but where surgery cannot be performed within 24 hours
  • wounds or burns where a significant amount of tissue has been removed, or puncture-type injuries such as animal bites, particularly if they have had contact with soil or manure
  • wounds containing any substance that shouldn't be there, such as dust or dirt (foreign bodies)
  • serious fractures where the bone is exposed and prone to infection (compound fractures)
  • wounds and burns in people who have systemic sepsis, a fall in blood pressure resulting from a serious bacterial infection

If you have a tetanus-prone wound and it's considered to be high risk, treatment with tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG) is recommended. TIG is a solution that contains infection-fighting cells (antibodies) that kill the tetanus bacteria. You will need TIG even if you're fully vaccinated against tetanus.

When do tetanus symptoms show up after an injury?

Tetanus symptoms usually show up 4 to 21 days after you've been infected with the bacteria that cause the infection. Most commonly, symptoms start after about 10 days.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

The main symptoms of tetanus are:

  • muscle stiffness, usually starting in the jaw and neck
  • muscle spasms (involuntary contractions)

You should immediately go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call emergency services for an ambulance if you develop severe muscle stiffness or spasms.

Read more about tetanus, including how it is treated, how you get it and tetanus vaccinations.

Content supplied byNHS
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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