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Tetanus, also known as lock jaw, is a painful condition that causes muscular spasms and stiffness. It usually involves all the muscles of the body and generally spreads downwards - the muscles of the face are affected first and then the rest of the body follows. The term lock jaw is used for the condition as the muscles of the head and neck go into such a severe spasm that it becomes difficult for the patient to even open his mouth or swallow. The disease has a high mortality rate and one in every five persons infected with the tetanus bacteria succumbs to the infection.

Clostridium tetani is the bacterium responsible for causing tetanus. It is an anaerobic bacterium and its spores are present in the ground and on old rusting iron. Two types of vaccines are available to protect people above 7 years of age against tetanus. They are:

  1. The Td vaccine, which provides protection against tetanus and diphtheria. A Td booster shot is recommended once every ten years.

  2. The Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The vaccine, once administered, protects you against these three diseases for a life time.

Some of the commonly seen side effects of the tetanus vaccines include:

  • Pain and swelling around the injection site: Most people who have received a tetanus shot complain of pain and swelling around the injection site. Though some amount of discomfort is associated with all vaccines, the tetanus shot is the most dreaded when it comes to this side effect. Some amount of pain and swelling around the vaccination site is normal and tends to go away spontaneously within a few days. However, if the pain is bothersome, commonly used over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen can be taken to get some relief.

Applying ice packs for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day at the injection site may numb the pain and provide some respite. It may also help resolve the hard lump which is sometimes seen at the injection site. However, once 48 hours pass hot packs are more helpful. Though you may not like to move the limb where the shot was administered because of pain, doing so may help reduce the soreness. This is because movement increases blood flow to the area and washes the substances associated with pain away.

  • Upper respiratory tract infection: Around one third of patients receiving a tetanus shot complain of a mild upper respiratory tract infection within two weeks of getting the shot. Common medicines which help relieve the symptoms of a cold (like a stuffy nose and hoarse throat) generally suffice. There is no need to take antibiotics. Some patients may also complain of headaches following vaccination. Commonly available painkillers may provide respite.

  • Fever: This side effect of tetanus vaccine is seen in one in every hundred patients who receive the vaccine. Paracetamol usually helps to the temperature back to normal.

  • Allergy to ingredients of the vaccine: Some patients may show an allergic reaction to some of the components of the tetanus vaccine. The allergy may be mild and manifest itself as skin redness and itching, or it may be severe and manifest itself the form of hives, severe itching, a lump in the throat, difficulty in swallowing and breathing, and extreme lethargy. Anyone with these symptoms needs medical assistance immediately.

  • Pneumonia: This is a rare side effect of the tetanus vaccine, usually seen in immuno-compromised patients. In fact, patients with a compromised immune system should seek their doctor's advice before going for a vaccination.

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