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

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Tetanus is a rare but serious and potentially life-threatening condition. The tetanus vaccination is given five times over the course of the routine childhood vaccination program recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A booster is given between the ages of 11 and 18 and another every ten years to protect against tetanus.

However, if there is any uncertainty about whether you have completed your vaccination schedule or kept your boosters up-to-date and have injured yourself and broken the skin, you may need to receive another booster dose.

What if I am up to date with my vaccines but I have a wound I am worried about?

Under certain circumstances, even if you have completed your tetanus vaccination schedule, you may still require treatment with tetanus immunoglobulin if you have a wound prone to tetanus. The immunoglobulin contains antibodies to kill the tetanus bacteria. CDC defines tetanus-prone wounds as:

  • wounds or burns that need surgery but where surgery can't be performed within 6 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

When will I need treatment after an injury?

If you have symptoms or signs of tetanus (muscle spasms and stiffness, breathing difficulties), you should call an ambulance or go to the emergency department immediately.

If you are unsure or have not completed your tetanus vaccination schedule and are worried about a new open wound exposed to dirt, soil, or foreign objects like glass - you should visit your nearest urgent treatment center or speak to your doctor for further advice. The health care professional will decide if you need further treatment or vaccination. Your doctor can assess the wound and decide if you need a vaccination or other treatment.

As mentioned above, you may still need treatment if there is concern about your wound, even if you are up to date with your vaccinations.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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