by Azra Behlim
Vizient Associate Vice President of Pharmacy Sourcing & Program Services

Summer is in full swing, and for many of us, that means enjoying some backyard BBQ, working on an outdoor improvement project, taking the kids to the visit a local farm, and spending some leisure time tending to our flower, herb and vegetable gardens. With the extended daylight hours, nothing beats the exciting days of summer and the great outdoors.  

However, some of the activities we enjoy so much during the summer can also put you at an increased risk of contracting tetanus. In addition to getting plenty of fluids and applying sunscreen and insect repellent, it is important to be sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date. 

Tetanus is an infection caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria, which forms spores and can be found in soil as well as in the intestines and feces of animals, including dogs, chickens, horses, sheep, pigs and cattle. The tetanus bacteria is quite tough and can survive temperatures of up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes and can be resistant to certain antiseptics. 

Contracting tetanus 

Tetanus is not typically something you contract from another person. The most common way to get tetanus is when the bacteria penetrate through broken skin or from a minor wound. This can easily happen during routine home improvement projects by stepping on a dirty nail, or while working in the garden or on a farm with an open wound that is exposed and not properly treated.  

Symptoms of tetanus 

The onset and symptoms of tetanus can be quite challenging. The bacteria produces two exotoxins, one of which, tetanospasmin, is a neurotoxin that causes the symptoms of tetanus. Tetanus causes painful stiffening of the muscles and can lead to serious health problems. The most common early symptoms are lockjaw, general stiffness and problems swallowing.  

Later symptoms include severe muscle spasms, seizure-like activity, nervous system disorders and difficulty breathing. Generally, between 10-20% of tetanus cases result in death, with fatalities more likely among older adults and unvaccinated individuals.  

Boosting against tetanus  

The good news is that this is easily preventable by receiving a tetanus booster shot. The CDC recommends receiving a booster dose of either Tdap or Td every 10 years, or after 5 years in the case of a severe or dirty wound or burn. 

Four kinds of vaccines used today protect against tetanus: Td, Tdap, DT, and DTap. The vaccine is typically combined with the vaccine for diphtheria, and sometimes also pertussis.  

  • Td or DT = Protects against Tetanus and Diphtheria 
  • Tdap or DTaP = Protects against Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis  

Children typically receive the DT and DTap vaccines, while adults receive the Td and Tdap.  

So, whether you’re out tending the garden, repairing a rusty fence, or petting the farm animals, remember to take a moment to review your medical records to ensure you’re up to date on your tetanus vaccine. If you find you’re not current on the vaccine, schedule an appointment with your physician or visit your local pharmacy to get the booster to ensure you and your family have a happy, healthy summer.


About the author: Dr. Azra Behlim is the Associate Vice President of Pharmacy Sourcing & Program Services at Vizient. In her current role, she has responsibility for brand & specialty pharmaceuticals, vaccines, Rx technology, as well as all Pharmacy program services. She also leads the Vizient COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce.

Behlim holds a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy from Midwestern University and an MBA from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

Published: August 23, 2022