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Shots for Seniors: The Tetanus-Diphtheria Vaccine
Most people need a tetanus-diphtheria shot every 10 years. Tetanus (sometimes called lockjaw) is caused by the toxin (poison) of a bacterium. The bacteria can enter the body through a tiny pinprick or scratch, but prefer deep puncture wounds or cuts like those made by nails or knives. Tetanus bacteria commonly are found in soil, dust, and manure. Tetanus is not spread from person to person. Common early tetanus symptoms are headache and muscle stiffness in the jaw, followed by:
 
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sweating
  • Fever.
     
Diphtheria usually affects the tonsils, throat, nose, or skin. Like tetanus, it is caused by the toxin, or poison, of a bacterium, but it can spread from an infected person to the nose or throat of others. It can lead to:
 
Diphtheria may be mistaken for a severe sore throat. Other symptoms include a low-grade fever and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. A second form of diphtheria causes sores on the skin that may be painful, red, and swollen.
 
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against tetanus and diphtheria. Most people receive their first vaccine as children in the form of a combined diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, or DTP. For adults, a combination shot, called a Td booster, protects against both tetanus and diphtheria. You need a Td shot every 10 years throughout life to protect yourself against these rare, but dangerous, illnesses. During everyday activities (such as gardening), the tetanus bacteria can enter a break in the skin and cause infection. It's particularly important to have a booster shot if you have a severe cut or puncture wound and haven't had a booster in the past 5 to 10 years.
 
The Td vaccine is safe and effective, and most people have no problems with it. If side effects do occur, they usually are minor and include soreness, redness, or swelling on the arm where the shot was given.
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