Tetanus is a disease caused by contamination of wounds with microscopic tetanus spores that live in soil. These spores produce a toxin which affects muscle throughout the body, leading to muscle spasms, jaw spasms (lockjaw) and eventually respiratory failure and without treatment, death. Prior to the introduction of tetanus vaccination 70 years ago, tetanus was a common cause of mortality.
Currently vaccination consists of 5 shots before the age of 5, with a booster shot in early high school. These are free as part of the standard Australian childhood schedule. Further routine shots are recommenced at the ages of 50 and 65 years old. Tetanus vaccine always comes in syringes combined with other vaccines.
When else should tetanus boosters be given?
Anyone sustaining a tetanus prone wound (contamination with soil, animal or human bites, deep splinters or significant burns) should receive a tetanus booster if it has been more than 5 years since their last tetanus containing vaccine.
Tetanus spores still exist in soil all over the world. Travellers to countries or in situations where it might be difficult to access safe or timely tetanus vaccination (were they to sustain a tetanus prone wound), should be vaccinated prior to travel if it has been more than 10 years since their last tetanus vaccine, or 5 years if participating in activities where there is a particularly high risk of a tetanus prone wound.