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Rare But Serious Possible Tetanus Shot Side Effects

Tetanus is a bacterium that lives in the soil. In its spore form, it can survive, ready to infect, for forty years. Tetanus is usually introduced into the body via a puncture wound which allows the bacteria access to the nervous system where it causes severe muscle spasms, initially in the neck and jaw, thus its informal name, lockjaw, and eventually spreading to other areas of the body. Left untreated, an unvaccinated person has a 25% chance of dying from a tetanus infection. Children are even more susceptible to the fatal effect of tetanus.

To prevent these outcomes, children are commonly vaccinated against tetanus as part a 3 part vaccine with pertussis and diphtheria. As the vaccination only lasts for 10 years, it is recommended that adults get tetanus vaccine booster shots. Common tetanus shot side effects include pain, redness and swelling, mild fever, headaches and tiredness.

However, there are very rare but far more serious tetanus shot side effects. There is evidence that a tetanus shot can cause brachial neuritis (BN). Brachial neuritis causes severe shoulder pain, followed by an inability to flex or use the shoulder muscles. The more acute symptoms typically heal, but there can be some symptoms remaining even after two years, and some weakness and numbness may never completely go away. Guillain-Barre syndrome is another possible rare tetanus shot side effect. Like Brachial neuritis, this disease also attacks the nervous system. Weakness, loss of reflexes, paralysis, low blood pressure, and blurred vision are all symptoms of GBS. There is no cure for GBS, but there are treatments that can ease symptoms and bring some relief to the patient. Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is another rare but serious possible tetanus shot side effect. Symptoms of ADEM include headache, lethargy, vomiting, weight loss, delirium, seizures and coma. While GBS and BN are more common in adults, ADEM is more common in children. Between 50 and 70% of people who are diagnosed with ADEM make a full recovery. Many people recover somewhat, but still have lingering disabilities as a result of ADEM. About 5% of people with this disease die in spite of treatment.

While the more common side effects are fleeting, these uncommon tetanus shot side effects deserve serious evaluation and consideration. Any sickness, numbness or tingling that occurs after a vaccine should be evaluated immediately. The above serious tetanus side effects all have better outcomes when treated early.

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