Why should adults get tetanus and diphtheria shots?

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Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations are usually given together with polio and MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) as part of immunization programs for children. Unlike many of the vaccines we are given during childhood, our immunity to tetanus and diphtheria wanes as we grow older, and many adults lack the appropriate levels of antitoxin against these two diseases. Several large screenings have shown that more than 50 percent of Americans over the age of thirty-nine, and 70 percent of those over age 70 need this combination vaccine. Admittedly, there's not much concern about tetanus or diphtheria these days. In 2001, just thirty-seven cases of tetanus and only one case of diphtheria were reported in the United States. Nevertheless, these are serious bacterial diseases. Nearly a quarter of all patients who get tetanus die from the disease, and that number is probably an underestimation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.