First Aid/Chances of getting tetanus



First of all, I accidentally hit the side of my thumb with a pen two days ago. The wound wasn't big, just a small "hole" with the diameter of the pen "lead". A few drops of blood came out but then nothing. As I were in school when that happened, I had completely forgotten about it when I got home so I didn't disinfect it. Now it has almost completely healed.

Then I was searching something from my backpack a while ago and I felt a sting on my finger. I looked at the finger and I couldn't see anything on it. It is possible that there was an insulin needle in my backpack, used or new, which poked my finger just lightly enough to feel it. On the other hand, I had a piece of hard plastic with sharp edges from some package -- it could have been that, also.

My question is, what are the chances of getting tetanus from these two incidents? I'm sure that I had a tetanus shot 11 years ago. I'm also almost sure that I had a tetanus shot a year ago. I recall getting a shot back then and that it wasn't a flu shot. I had a look at our vaccination program and I'm almost certain that it must have been the tetanus shot. Does a tetanus shot always prevent tetanus? And exploring the very small possibility that I wasn't given the shot year ago, could I get tetanus?

Thanks in advance.

Hello Pake,

Here in the U.S. all school age children are required to have certain immunizations (including tetanus). Tetanus generally is found in the soil, so being stabbed with a pen or used insulin pen would carry the same risk of developing tetanus as a paper-cut or being cut by a knife in the kitchen. Tetanus shots generally make your arm sore for a couple days vs. a flu shot which may be sore for a couple hours after. I would say you're at a very low risk of developing tetanus from the injuries you have described.

Stay healthy,


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Marcus LaBarbera


I am available to answer most questions related to: first aid, pre- hospital medicine, EMT and Paramedic questions, medical transport, critical care transport, ICU/CCU care, sedation, and medicine in general.


I have worked as a NYS Paramedic since 1993 for both community based ambulance companies and large commercial agencies. I Have experience as bike team commander, and shift supervisor for a commercial ambulance. As a member of the Disaster team I was deployed to Louisiana for 20 days following hurricane Katrina. I worked along side the county Haz-Mat team as a "Tox-Medic" with advanced training in treating injuries from chemical agents. Besides my experience on the on the ambulance I have worked in a number of hospital based offices including dialysis and a sleep lab.

I started my EMS career as a NYS CFR (Certified First Responder)in 1989, an EMT in 1991, a Paramedic since 1993, and a CCU transport paramedic since 2005. I currently hold certification as a: NYS Paramedic, Critical Care Transport Paramedic, ACLS/CPR/PALS certified. Advanced Haz-Mat Life Support certified (AHLS). In the past I have taught CPR and ACLS to my coworkers and the local community.

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