How do Tetanus shots work?

No, I am not an anti-vaxer, quite the opposite in fact.

A few weeks ago my finger had a run-in with a table saw. Quite minor damage given the range of possibilities. Slotted my nail and caught the meat under it for about half an inch.

It didn’t look stitch-able to me, so I bandaged it up myself. Next day I had my doc check it out to be sure it didn’t need any professional attention. (He gave my work high marks) While I was there I had him give me a DPT jab since it had been several decades.

This now has me thinking: when I was a kid it seemed like I was always getting a shot after stepping on a nail or whatnot if it had been over a year since the last jab.

So I got to thinking that I have had lots and lots of opportunity to get infected in adulthood, and decades since the last shot, so why can I still open my mouth?

I almost always have cuts and scratches on my hands, they don’t come from clean stuff. I do clean them up, if I notice , and manage to keep them from getting infected.

Which makes me think I have probably been challenging my immune system with the real bug on a regular basis, so have been maintaining immunity.

Does it work like that, or am I just lucky?

Nope. There is no vaccine for Clostridium tetani; the vaccine is a toxoid vaccine for tetanospasmin, the toxin produced by the bacterium. The toxin is extremely potent, and is lethal at concentrations too small to provoke an immune response.

Clostridium tetani is an anaerobe, fortunately, and surface cuts and scratches are relatively unlikely to foster its growth. Punctures and deep cuts are the route to a tetanus infection, so you’ve been at less risk.

Also, IIRC, the tetanus vaccine is only needed every 10 years after teenhood. Your childhood recollections may have been merely coincidental with other childhood vaccines.

Ah, here’s the CDC recommended schedule:

I think that since few of us carry our immunisation history around with us, and neither can we accurately recall the last time we had a shot, anyone turning up in an ER with a deep wound, will probably get one as a precaution.

If it is an ER situation, they likely are also given the toxoid immunoglobulins directly, so that they can work at neutralizing the toxin and presenting it to the immune system while the patient prepares his/her own repertoire. This is part of what the plasma centers in many places of the US do. They collect the plasma (which contain immunoglobulins), and can sort the immunoglobulins and products contained in the plasma to treat various conditions. Sometimes they boost people in their programs with certain vaccines (rabies, hepatitis C, tetanus), to increase the levels of specific immunoglobulins and thus increase the amount of them they get from each plasma sample.

Thanks for the responses. I thought there might be more to it than I was aware of.

Follow up question: is the fact that Clostridium tetani is an anaerobe part of what makes Hydrogen Peroxide a popular rinsing agent for wounds? Seems like I heard that it can impede healing if over used, but I keep it in hand and rinse wounds with it before bandaging with anti-bacterial ointment.

Oh, on edit: is the oxygen sucking capacity of iron what gives rise to the association of Tetanus with rusty nails, or is it just the deep wound?

Hydrogen peroxide is one of the compounds the white blood cells in the body make to combat and destroy bacteria, so using it can help destroy the bacteria. It can also damage tisse, which is why it can impede healing.

Clostridium tetani spores live in the environment and can survive dormant in places and surfaces where the bacteria by itself wouldn’t survive and replicate. They’re also present in the dirt and soil. It’s the deep wound with something likely contaminated with the spores that seed the spores deep into the tissue. This tissue is much less oxygenated than the environment and the skin surface, allowing the bacteria to get out of domant state and reproduce.

Any deep wound would do it, if done with something contaminated. My dad got the anti-toxin immunoglobulin (and the vaccine) when he had a nasty fall on a dirty gravel road, and I requested and got the vaccine booster when a hawk I was tending to decided to claw my hand.

Back in 1981, when I was a Junior in high school, I contracted Mucha–Habermann (graphic image) disease three days after getting a DT booster. I haven’t had a tetanus shot since, and have wondered if I should resume getting them. Don’t want to hijack the thread, but thought I’d put it out there for thoughts.