Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTaP)
What are diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis?
Diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus are serious diseases.
Diphtheria. Diphtheria is a serious bacterial disease that can infect the body in two areas:
The diphtheria bacterium can enter the body through the nose and mouth. It can also
enter through a break in the skin. It is transmitted from person-to-person by fluids
from the lungs, nose, throat and mouth, or droplets in the air. After being exposed
to the bacteria, it usually takes 2 to 4 days for symptoms to develop. It can lead
to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and even death.
Tetanus. Tetanus (lockjaw) is an serious, often fatal, disease of the central nervous system.
It is caused by the toxin of the tetanus bacterium, which usually enters the body
through an open wound. Tetanus causes painful tightening of the muscles, usually all
over the body. It can lead to "locking" of the jaw so the person cannot open his or
her mouth or swallow.
Tetanus is not contagious. It occurs in people who have had a skin or deep tissue
wound or puncture. It is also seen in the umbilical stump of infants in underdeveloped
countries. This occurs in places where immunization to tetanus is not widespread and
women may not know proper care of the umbilical stump after the baby is born. After
being exposed to tetanus, it may take between 2 days to 2 months to develop any symptoms.
In infants, symptoms may take between 5 days to 2 weeks to develop.
Pertussis. Pertussis, or whooping cough, mainly affects infants and young children. It is caused
by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis causes intense fits or spells
(paroxysms) of coughing that end with the characteristic whoop as air is inhaled.
Whooping cough causes coughing spells so bad that it is hard for infants and children
to eat, drink, or breathe. These spells can last for weeks. In infants, it may cause
periods of apnea (not breathing).
It is spread from person to person through droplets in the air (coughing and sneezing),
and is highly contagious. Once the bacterium is in the child's airways, swelling of
the airways and mucus production starts. It can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain
damage, and death.
Immunization against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccines prevent these diseases. Most children
who get all of their shots will be protected during childhood. A combination vaccine
is given to babies and children and provides protection against all three diseases.
There are several types of the vaccine:
Protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
Newer form of the vaccine, in which the pertussis component is "acellular," thus less
likely to cause reactions than former types
DT or Td boosters:
Protects against diphtheria and tetanus
For people 7 years of age and older
Recommended every 10 years for adults
Protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
Recommended as a booster shot for adolescents ages 11 to 18 years who have completed
the recommended DTaP series and as a one-time booster for adults in place of their
next every-ten-year booster shot. It should also be given as a booster after a penetrating
injury if the last booster was more than 5 years ago.
When are diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis combination vaccines given?
DTaP vaccine is given in 5 doses to babies and children at the following ages:
15 to 18 months
4 to 6 years
Your child also needs a booster dose called the Tdap vaccine at ages 11 through 12
years. If your child is older than that, the Tdap should replace the next tetanus
and diphtheria (Td) booster. The Td booster should then be given every 10 years throughout
Some children should not get the DTaP vaccines, or should get them at a later date.
Other children may get the vaccines only after consulting with a healthcare provider. These
include children who:
Previously had a moderate or serious reaction after getting vaccinated
Previously had a seizure or collapsed after a dose of DTaP
Cried nonstop for 3 hours or more after a dose of DTaP
Had a fever over 105°F (41°C) after a dose of DTaP
Had brain or nervous system problems after a previous vaccine
Currently have a moderate or severe illness
Your child's healthcare provider will advise you about vaccines in these situations.
What are the risks from DTaP vaccines?
As with any medicine, vaccines carry a small risk of serious harm, such as a severe
allergic reaction or even death. If there are reactions, they usually start within
3 days and do not last long. Most people have no serious reactions from these vaccines.
Reactions are much less likely after DTaP than older forms of the vaccine. Common
reactions to these vaccines may include:
Severe reactions such as very high fever, seizures, or allergic reactions to these
vaccines are rare.
How do I care for my child after immunization with DTaP vaccine?
Give your child aspirin-free pain reliever for 24 hours after the shot, or as directed
by your child's healthcare provider.
Watch for signs of reaction, such as high fever, behavior change, seizure, or difficulty
breathing. Report these or any other unusual signs right away to your child's healthcare