The diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects against these three diseases:
Diphtheria Diphtheria Diphtheria is a contagious, sometimes fatal infection of the upper respiratory tract caused by the gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria (see figure How Bacteria Shape Up) Corynebacterium diphtheriae... read more usually causes inflammation of the throat and mucous membranes of the mouth. However, the bacteria that cause diphtheria produce a toxin that can damage the heart, kidneys, and nervous system. Diphtheria was once a leading cause of death in children.
Tetanus Tetanus Tetanus results from a toxin produced by the anaerobic bacteria Clostridium tetani. The toxin makes muscles contract involuntarily and become rigid. Tetanus usually develops after a wound... read more (lockjaw) causes severe muscle spasms, which result from a toxin produced by bacteria. The bacteria usually enter the body through a wound.
Pertussis Pertussis Pertussis is a highly contagious infection caused by the gram-negative bacteria Bordetella pertussis, which results in fits of coughing that usually end in a prolonged, high-pitched,... read more (whooping cough) is a very contagious respiratory infection that is particularly dangerous to children younger than 2 years old and to people who have a weakened immune system.
For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) vaccine information statement.
(See also Overview of Immunization Overview of Immunization Immunization (vaccination) helps the body defend itself against diseases caused by certain bacteria or viruses. Immunity (the ability of the body to defend itself against diseases caused by... read more .)
The vaccine has two formulations:
DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) for children under 7 years
Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) for adolescents and adults
Tdap has lower doses of diphtheria and pertussis vaccine, indicated by the lower case d and p. The lower doses are adequate for adolescents and adults. There is also a vaccine that contains only the tetanus and diphtheria components (tetanus-diphtheria [Td] vaccine Tetanus-Diphtheria Vaccine The tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine protects against toxins produced by the tetanus and diphtheria bacteria, not against the bacteria themselves. There is also a combination vaccine that adds... read more ).
Administration of Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine
The DTaP vaccine is given as an injection into a muscle. As a part of routine childhood vaccination Childhood Vaccination Schedule Most doctors follow the vaccination schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC—see the schedule for infants and children and the schedule for older children... read more , five injections of DTaP are given: typically at age 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years.
DTaP is followed by one lifetime dose of a Tdap booster given at age 11 to 12 years and given to people 13 years or over who have never received Tdap or who are unsure about whether they received it. This dose is followed by a Td booster every 10 years.
Pregnant women are given a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy (preferably at 27 to 36 weeks gestation). After pregnancy, women who have never received Tdap are given a dose.
Certain conditions may affect whether and when people are vaccinated (see also Who Should NOT Get Vaccinated With These Vaccines? from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]). If people have a temporary illness, doctors usually wait to give the vaccine until the illness resolves.
Side Effects of Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine
The injection site may become sore, swollen, and red. Serious side effects are rare. They include high fever, inconsolable crying, brain problems, seizures, shock, and a severe allergic reaction.
Serious side effects usually result from the pertussis part of the vaccine. If they occur, the vaccine that contains pertussis is not used again. Instead, the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine (which does not contain the pertussis component) is used to complete the vaccination series.
The DTaP or Tdap vaccine is not repeated if seizures occur within 3 days after the vaccine is given or other signs of brain malfunction occur within 7 days after the vaccine is given.
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