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You may have heard of a tetanus shot. But what’s a Tdap vaccine? How can it keep you and your family protected from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)? Even more, what are those diseases and their symptoms? Here’s the information you need to keep yourself and your family healthy.


What is the Tdap Vaccine?

The Tdap vaccine gets its name from the three diseases it helps to prevent: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). To combat the spread of these diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccines for all ages from infants to adults. There are different options, depending on the age of the patient:

Tdap – Patients Over the Age of Seven2

The Tdap vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) and is for children who are seven years and older, adolescents, adults and seniors.

Children over the age of seven: They should receive a single dose of Tdap at age 11 or 12.

Adults: All adults should have had at least one dose of Tdap in their lifetime. They should also receive a booster shot of either Tdap or Td (a vaccine that protects against tetanus and diphtheria but not pertussis) every ten years. Note: During pregnancy, expectant mothers should get a dose of Tdap during the early part of the third trimester. This will help protect their child from the risk of pertussis.

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What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a serious infection that is caused by toxin-making bacteria. The toxin is what makes people sick and can lead to breathing issues, heart failure, paralysis and even death.3

Cause: This disease may either infect the respiratory tract or the skin, depending on how it has been acquired.

  • Respiratory diphtheria is most commonly spread by infected people coughing or sneezing, which passes the bacteria on to others.
  • Diphtheria skin infection is spread by touching the open sore or ulcer of someone who already is infected.

Is it contagious? Yes. If you have diphtheria, you will be contagious until 48 hours after you begin taking antibiotics. Remember: You must finish taking the full course of antibiotics to ensure that all bacteria are completely removed from your body.

How is it treated? A provider will use a diphtheria antitoxin to stop the bacteria from further damaging the body. This is mostly for respiratory infections.

Both respiratory and skin infections will be treated with antibiotics that will get rid of the bacteria. After you complete this treatment, your provider will test to see if your body is bacteria-free.5

How is it prevented? The Tdap or Td shot is the best protection against diphtheria for you and your children over the age of seven.

Diphtheria Symptoms

There are two different forms of diphtheria: respiratory and skin.

Respiratory diphtheria

When someone infected with diphtheria coughs or sneezes, the bacteria then get into and attach themselves to the lining of your respiratory system. The bacteria will then start to damage healthy tissues. Within two to five days, you or your child may experience symptoms like:6

  • Body weakness
  • Sore throat
  • Mild fever
  • A thick, gray coating of congestion in the throat and nose
  • Swollen glands in the neck

If you believe that you have this disease, you should visit your neighborhood MedExpress or your provider immediately for treatment.

Additionally, if you begin to have trouble swallowing or breathing, go to the emergency room immediately or call 911.

If left untreated, respiratory diphtheria may lead to:

  • Airway blockage
  • Nerve damage
  • Damage to the heart
  • Kidney failure

Diphtheria skin infection

The bacteria may also infect the skin. The main symptoms are open sores or ulcers. The good news? Diphtheria skin infections rarely result in severe disease.6

However, you should still visit MedExpress or your provider for treatment. You will be prescribed antibiotics that will get rid of the bacteria in your skin.

What is Tetanus?

Tetanus is an infection caused by spores of bacteria that are found throughout our world.

Cause: These spores live in mold, dust, dirt and manure. They can get into your body in several different ways:

  • If you have a wound that has been contaminated by dirt, spit or feces
  • Any puncture wound that breaks the skin, such as a nail or needle going into your body
  • Burns
  • Any crush injury causes by being squeezed between two objects
  • Injuries that leave you with dead tissue

Tetanus bacteria can also enter your body through:

  • Scraped skin from superficial wounds
  • Surgical procedures
  • Insect bites
  • Dental infections
  • Exposed broken bones
  • Chronic sores and infections
  • Intravenous (IV) drug use
  • Intramuscular injections

Is it contagious? No. Tetanus is not spread by person-to-person contact.7

How is it treated? Tetanus should be considered a medical emergency. It requires an immediate emergency room visit for evaluation and care, which may include:

  • Immediate treatment with human tetanus immune globulin (TIG)
  • Aggressive wound care
  • Drugs to control muscle spasms
  • Antibiotics
  • Tetanus vaccination

How is it prevented? In order to never have to undergo the painful and dangerous symptoms of tetanus, you can protect yourself with a combination of good wound care and staying up to date on your vaccinations:

  • Good wound care: This means always getting first aid, even for minor and non-infected wounds.
  • Vaccinations: There are just an average of 30 cases of tetanus every year in the U.S. Nearly all of those cases are from people who didn’t get the recommended tetanus vaccine.8

The childhood DTaP (which is not available at MedExpress) and adolescent Tdap shots will protect younger patients from tetanus. For adults, you should get either a Tdap or tetanus shot every ten years. If you get a severe or dirty wound or burn, your provider may recommend a Tdap or tetanus shot.

In fact, if you visit MedExpress with any cut or burn, you will be asked when you received your last shot.

Tetanus Symptoms

In the past, people would call this disease lockjaw. That’s because the first symptom is often a tightening of the jaw muscles. Further symptoms include:9

  • Sudden, involuntary muscle or stomach spasms
  • Painful body and muscle stiffness
  • Issues with swallowing or breathing
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Fever and sweating
  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate

Generally, you will see symptoms within 8-14 days of infection. However, it may also be up to a few months, depending on the injury.9

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately. Serious health complications including heart blockage and aspiration pneumonia may arise from this disease.

What is Whooping Cough (Pertussis)?

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious disease. While it is a serious illness for adults and older children, it can be extremely dangerous for infants and younger children.10

Cause: The bacteria that cause whooping cough are easily spread when those infected by it sneeze or cough. This releases small particles filled with bacteria that can be inhaled. It is also spread by spending more than 15 minutes in a small space with someone, including holding a newborn to your chest.11

Is it contagious? Yes. People can be contagious for weeks without even knowing they have whooping cough. It can be spread from when symptoms begin and up until two weeks after coughing starts. However, some may have mild symptoms and not realize that they are contagious.11

How is it treated? Your provider will treat whooping cough with antibiotics. It’s very important that the disease is prevented early, as that makes it less serious. It also prevents lasting damage to the body and the chance that it will be spread to others.12

During the treatment process, you can manage any symptoms by:

  • Using antibiotics exactly as prescribed
  • Keeping your home free of smoke, dust and chemical fumes
  • Using a clean, cool mist humidifier to loosen mucus and lessen coughing
  • Practicing frequent handwashing
  • Eating small meals every few hours to prevent nausea and vomiting
  • Preventing dehydration by getting lots of fluids
  • Avoiding cough medication unless your provider instructs you differently

In addition, make sure that you report any signs of dehydration to your provider immediately.

How is it prevented? The most important thing to realize is that babies are in more danger from whooping cough than adults. If you have a child, adults 19 years old or older who have never had a Tdap vaccine should get one. This should be followed by either the Td or Tdap vaccine every ten years. These vaccines are available at your neighborhood MedExpress.13

As a reminder, the CDC recommends that children receive five doses of DTaP at the following ages:

  • Two months
  • Four months
  • Six months
  • 15-18 months
  • Four to Six years

Speak with your provider about getting your child on a Dtap vaccination schedule.

It’s also essential that all mothers get vaccinated while pregnant. Beyond protecting yourself, this will also pass on short-term protection to your child. This is important as infants can’t receive the vaccine until they are two months of age.

To further protect newborns and infants, ask family members and visitors to get a Td or Tdap vaccine at least two weeks before meeting your child.13

Whooping Cough Symptoms

Whooping cough may start like a common cold. However, it’s symptoms can last for months. Symptoms begin within five to ten days after infection, but may not develop for up to three weeks.14

Whooping cough symptoms in adults Initial symptoms are similar to the common cold and many providers may not diagnose it as whooping cough until later symptoms appear. These symptoms include:

  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Fever of less than 100.4°F
  • Mild cough

Within 14 days, those with whooping cough begin having uncontrollable coughing fits that can last anywhere from one to ten weeks. These fits get worse over time. This is where whooping cough gets its name, as patients struggle to breathe and “whoop” as they finally can inhale during the coughing fits. They may also become exhausted or nauseated by these fits.

Recovery can take some time and the coughing fits may return if you get a respiratory infection.

Whooping cough symptoms in children

Just like adults, child whooping cough symptoms are close to those of the common cold. These symptoms include:14

  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Low grade fever (less than 100.4°F)
  • Apnea, which is a life-threatening pause in breathing
  • Cyanosis, which is a blue or purple skin color

While adults and teens get the whooping cough symptoms, these are often the only symptoms that infants and young children face. However, whooping cough can cause serious and sometimes deadly complications. The younger the child, the more likely that they will need to be treated at a hospital.15

Whooping cough vaccines are effective, but, you can still get sick. However, being vaccinated means that the cough doesn’t last as long. Additionally, coughing fits are lessened in adults and teens, while infants and children see less cases of apnea and cyanosis.14

How Can MedExpress Help?

If you need an update to your Tdap vaccine, MedExpress has you covered. We’re also here if you don’t feel well or have a cut or burn that needs attention.

You can either schedule your next visit online or just walk in whenever is convenient for you. We’re open from 8 to 8 every day.

For your convenience, we accept most major insurance. To verify that your insurance is in-network, visit the Plan Your Visit page. We also offer a discount to those patients who choose to pay in full for their visit at the time of service. Self-pay services are $199.



1 CDC. DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) VIS. Last updated August 6, 2021. Accessed September 27, 2023.

2 CDC. Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) VIS. Last updated August 6, 2021. Accessed September 27, 2023.

3 CDC. Diphtheria. Last updated September 9, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

4 CDC. Diphtheria Causes and How It Spreads. Last updated September 9, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

5 CDC. Diphtheria Diagnosis, Treatment and Complications. Last updated September 9, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

6 CDC. Diphtheria Signs and Symptoms. Last updated September 9, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

7 CDC. Tetanus. Last updated August 29, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

8 CDC. Tetanus Vaccination. Last updated August 29, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

9 CDC. Tetanus Causes and How It Spreads. Last updated August 29, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

10 CDC. 5 Things to Know About Whooping Cough. Last updated August 4, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

11 CDC. Whooping Cough Causes and How It Spreads. Last updated August 4, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

12 CDC. Whooping Cough Diagnosis and Treatment. Last updated August 4, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

13 CDC. Pregnancy and Whooping Cough. Last updated August 4, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

14 CDC. Whooping Cough Signs and Symptoms. Last updated August 4, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

15 CDC. Whooping Cough Complications. Last updated August 4, 2022. Accessed September 27, 2023.

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