When you were younger, you most likely received the diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis, or DTaP, vaccine. The DTap vaccine protects you from tetanus, or lockjaw, pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough, and diphtheria, a throat infection. As an adult or older child, you should get the pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria booster (Tdap) or the tetanus and diphtheria booster (Td) to supplement the protection provided by the initial vaccine.
Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis can be dangerous and life threatening. About 20 percent of people who get a tetanus infection die. The disease causes your muscles to spasm and lock. Eventually the jaw may lock so that you cannot open your mouth or swallow. If you get diphtheria, a thick, gray substance coats the back of your throat, which makes it difficult to breathe. Pertussis causes a severe cough that can lead to pneumonia or death.
Most children in the United States receive either a DT, or diphtheria and tetanus, vaccine or a DTaP, a diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis, vaccine before the age of six. The vaccine does not offer protection throughout a person's life, so boosters are needed periodically. Around the age of 11, many children should also get a tetanus and diphtheria, or a Tdap, booster. While you need only one Tdap booster in your life, you should get a tetanus and diphtheria booster every ten years.
There are special circumstances under which you definitely need a tetanus and diphtheria booster. If you are seriously injured, either from a very bad burn or a deep cut, you should get a tetanus and diptheria booster. If you haven't gotten the Tdap booster already, you should get that instead.
You'll also need either a Td or Tdap booster if you work with infants or if you are about to become pregnant. If you never received any vaccinations as a child, you should get the Tdap booster now. You should get a Td or Tdap booster if you work in a health care setting, such as in a hospital or clinic. If you've received the Tdap booster, you should wait about two years before getting the Td booster.
Vaccinations are not for everyone. If you've ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine, you should avoid the tetanus and diphtheria booster and the Tdap. Always make sure you inform your doctor of any allergies you have, as the vaccine may contain those allergens. You should wait until you feel better to get a vaccine if you are sick.