It mainly affects young women but men, children and older women are also at risk. That’s what we’re going to look at in this article.
What are the symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?
Toxic Shock Syndrome symptoms generally come on quite quickly. If you’re a woman they usually come on during your period. They include:
- High fever (over 38.9C/102.2F)
- Feeling dizzy/faint and/or fainting
- Nausea and vomiting
- Watery diarrhoea
- Aching muscles
- Reduced need to pee
- Breathing difficulties
- Redness in your eyes, mouth and throat
- Rash that looks like sunburn or skin peeling, especially on the palms of your hands and soles of feet.
These symptoms get worse within a few hours. If you have some of these symptoms see your doctor without delay.
If you’re menstruating and using a tampon, remove the tampon.
These symptoms can lead to kidney failure, respiratory failure, unconsciousness and, in serious cases, death.
What causes Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic Shock Syndrome is a bacterial infection caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus Aureus or Streptococcus. The bacteria release toxins and these toxins cause the symptoms and organ damage.
The bacteria get into the blood through broken skin – a burn, blister or boil, a skin infection or through the vagina if it’s damaged by tampons or a contraceptive sponge/cap.
Experts are not clear on why it mainly affects young women and why using tampons (especially super-absorbent tampons) makes a woman more at risk.
What tests will the doctor do for Toxic Shock Syndrome?
While there is no specific test for TSS, the doctor will take blood and urine samples, measure your temperature and examine any skin rash.
What is the treatment for Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Because Toxic Shock Syndrome is serious and potentially life-threatening condition, if it is confirmed then hospital treatment is essential.
- A person with TSS needs:
- Intravenous fluids
- Oxygen therapy
- Treatment to any skin condition caused by TSS
- Dialysis if kidney damage is confirmed.
Who gets Toxic Shock Syndrome?
The majority of people who get TSS are young menstruating women. No one is sure why this should be. However children, men and older people can also get it.
Women using super-absorbent tampons (which stay in the vagina for longer) and those using a cap or sponge as contraceptive seem to be most at risk. But remember the condition is very rare.
Figures for the UK say that about 20 patients develop TSS per year (source NHS).
In the US, the Centre for Disease control (CDC) say that each year the condition affects about 1 or 2 women in every 100,000 (one hundred thousand) women aged 15-44 years of age.
What’s the outcome for people with TSS?
Because the disease is serious, people do die from it. The death rate is about 5-15%.
It can recur in about 30-40% of people who have it.
Remember that those figures mean that 85-95% people do not die from it, and 60-70% of people who have had it do not get it again.
There can be short and longer-term complications if a patient’s organs are damaged by the disease (eg the heart, kidneys).
How can I prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome?
- Good hand washing before and after using a tampon.
- During your period, use the lowest absorbency tampon that is suitable for your blood flow
- Change tampons regularly.
- Only use one tampon at a time – if your period is so heavy that you need 2 tampons, see your doctor as there may be another problem that needs attention.
- Use sanitary towels instead of tampons during your period.
- Remember to remove a tampon at the end of your period.
Remember TSS is rare but serious. If you are experiencing the symptoms listed at the top of the page, see your doctor urgently.
For further information:
This article on Toxic Shock Syndrome from the Mayo Clinic will give you more information.
If you’re worried about your symptoms or medical problem but don’t want to seek professional help because you feel embarrassed, silly or that it’s your fault in some way, read this page now: How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem