I stepped on a nail. Do I need a tetanus shot?


Q: I stepped on a nail and am wondering if I need a tetanus shot.  My last shot was 5 years ago.

A: You should probably get a tetanus shot in this case.  Tetanus vaccines are given to children in the USA with a series of 5 childhood shots called the DTaP.  The vaccine covers diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.  A booster that contains vaccines to all three diseases is given between the ages of 11 and 18.  After that, it is recommended that adults get the Tdap booster vaccine every 10 years, and sooner (every 5 years) if there is an injury. 

Puncture wounds from objects like nails and bites are most susceptible to infection with tetanus. However, you can also get tetanus from any exposure to soil, including minor cuts, scrapes, and burns, and sometimes with no injury at all. 

Once the tetanus bacteria get into your tissues, it starts creating toxins.  These toxins interfere with nerves, which leads to spasms, contractions, and respiratory failure.  We take this disease seriously because it is potentially deadly but very preventable.

It is important to take care of a skin wound to prevent infection.  The first steps should be to clean the wound with soap and water.  Use an antibiotic cream and keep the wound covered with a bandage until it scabs over.  Remember to change the dressing daily or it becomes wet or dirty, and seek care if the wound is getting more red or painful, or if you have other concerns. 

FINAL SUMMARY – if you get hurt, consider getting a tetanus shot if it has been more than 5 years since your last booster, and keep your tetanus protection up-to-date every ten years. 

We provide the tetanus vaccine and many others here at the Student Health Center, so you can always come in and see us to get one.


Adam Brandeberry, Med IV (OSU COM)

Roger Miller, MD (OSU Preventive Medicine)


9 thoughts on “I stepped on a nail. Do I need a tetanus shot?

  1. i stepped on a nail while i was walking on rocks and it went through my bottom foot the nail was rusted im not sure if it was a nail or a screw i started bleeding not very much it didn’t really hurt i had some help i got it pulled out they helped me by cleaning my foot and putting antibiotic cream i had my tetanus shot given already when i was younger what do i do i am 15 years old?

    • Jorge,

      When you say that you received your tetanus shot when you were younger – what do you mean by younger? If it was more than 10 years ago, you should go to the doctor and get another tetanus shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals receive a tetanus vaccine every 10 years.

  2. I had a tetanus shot about a year ago and today I got stabbed with a nail but didn’t bleed nail was rusty, wondering if I would need another shot?

  3. I stepped on a nail although, not rusty a pretty good puncture. I am planning on getting a tetnus shot as it has been many years since my last, I’m 51. My question is, “would it hurt to wait until Monday to see my GP and save 100’s of dollars by not having to go to ER as it is Sat evening and my doctors office is not open.

  4. I do not know when my last tetanus shot was, but the other day I stepped on a needle in my room I squeezed it at the time to have some blood run out then sprayed peroxide on it. I forgot about it the day after and I tend to walk in my back yard barefoot. I have experienced lock jaw like symptoms but I tend to get that sometimes after forgetting to wear my retainer and also get neck pain and shoulder pain every now and then, but am experiencing it now. I get alittle scared sometimes. I am wondering if I should worry about tetanus. The wound site is small just like a needle point size and it looks closed but I can see it still.

    • Dude how long was the last time u got a tetanus shot because it might get infected so u probably might need to get a tetanus shot because it might have got infected when u went barefoot on your yard

  5. I had a tetanus shot about 4 year ago & today i stepped into a rusty nail but dosent bleed.do i need anethor tetanus shot?

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