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

Ouch!!!

Get your vaccination

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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 booster vaccine every 10 years, and sooner (every 5 years) if there is an injury. 

What kinds of injuries are concerning?

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. 

Is tetanus a bad diease?

Thanks to the vaccine, Tetanus (or “lockjaw” as it used to be known) is pretty rare in the United States, which is a good thing because it is seriously bad news.  Once the tetanus bacteria get into your tissues, it starts creating toxins that interfere with nerves.  This leads to muscle spasms, contractions, and ultimately, respiratory failure.  We emphasize the importance of the vaccine because Tetanus is deadly and there is no cure for it. 

How do I care for my wound?

It is important to take care of a skin wound to prevent infection.  The steps are:

  • Clean the wound thoroughly 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.
  • Seek care if the wound is getting more red or painful, or if you have other concerns. 

Student Health Services offers services for most non-life-threatening injuries and wounds, and the full range of adult immunizations, including the Tetanus/Diphtheria and Tetanus/Diphtheria/Acellular Pertussis boosters used most commonly in this situation.  Check out our price list, in case you are concerned about the cost.

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. 

Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

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