Adult Tetanus and Diphtheria Immunisation
Can you remember when you had your last injection for tetanus and diphtheria? If not, then read on …
New Zealand children have been immunised against tetanus and diphtheria since 1960. Diphtheria vaccine is combined with tetanus to protect adults from both infections.
A tetanus-diphtheria injection given at age 45 and 65 years maintains your protection against these infections.
About the infections
Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection of the throat, which can close off the airway. It can also affect the heart and nervous system and cause death. Although diphtheria has virtually disappeared in New Zealand because of immunisation, there was one case in 1998 in a child who was not immunised.
Tetanus is also caused by bacteria, which enter the body through a wound or cut. Tetanus spores are found in the soil and sometimes in animal manures. Tetanus causes muscle stiffness, painful spasms and sometimes death. People over 50 years of age (particularly women) are most likely to suffer from tetanus. This is because the national childhood immunisation program with tetanus vaccine started in 1960; before 1960, programmes were only delivered to armed forces personnel.
When do you need a tetanus-diphtheria injection?
- If you have never had a tetanus injection, you need to have a course of three immediately. The injections are given one month apart.
- If you get a dirty or deep wound and it is more than five years since your last tetanus injection, you need to be revaccinated with a single dose immediately.
- Otherwise, you need a booster dose at age 45 and 65 years.
Are there any side-effects?
After the injection, you may get a sore arm or mild fever for a day or two. Very rarely, about one in a million times, a serious allergic reaction occurs. There may be a very rare risk of damage to the nerves of the arm, called brachial plexus neuropathy. This occurs in about one in 100,000 cases. There is no evidence for other serious risks.
To find out more, talk to your doctor, nurse or Māori community health worker. The vaccine is provided free.