Toxic shock syndrome can happen to anyone — men, women, and children. Although it can be serious, it's a very rare illness. If you're concerned about toxic shock syndrome, the smartest thing you can do is to read and learn about it, then take some precautions.
If you're a girl who's had her period, you may have heard frightening stories about toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a serious illness originally linked to the use of tampons. That's because the earliest cases of the illness, back in the late 1970s, were related to super-absorbent tampons. Research led to better tampons and better habits for using them — such as changing tampons more often. The number of TSS cases dropped dramatically. Today about half of all TSS cases are linked to menstruation.
But TSS isn't strictly related to tampons. The contraceptive sponge and the diaphragm, two types of birth control methods, have been linked to TSS. It also can happen if bacteria enter skin that's broken from a cut or other wound, surgery, or a scald or burn; after giving birth; during a chickenpox infection; and from prolonged use of nasal packing for nosebleeds — although all of these are rare.
TSS is a systemic illness, which means that it affects the whole body. It's caused by two types of bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (often called staph) and Streptococcus pyogenes (often called strep), with most cases related to staph bacteria. These bacteria can produce toxins. In some people whose bodies can't fight these toxins, the immune system reacts. This reaction causes the symptoms associated with TSS.
Symptoms of TSS occur suddenly. Because it's an illness that is caused by a toxin, many of the body's organ systems are affected.
The signs and symptoms of TSS include:
The average time before symptoms appear for TSS is 2 to 3 days after an infection with Staphylococcus or Streptococcus, although this can vary depending on the infection.
Your risk of getting TSS is already low. But you can lower it even more by following these common-sense precautions:
TSS is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone you know may have TSS, call a doctor right away. Depending on the symptoms, a doctor may see you in the office or refer you to a hospital emergency department for immediate evaluation and testing.
If doctors suspect TSS, they will probably start intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics as soon as possible. They may take a sample from the suspected site of the infection, such as the skin, nose, or vagina, to check it for TSS. They also may take a blood sample. Other blood tests can help show how various organs (like the kidneys) are working and check for other diseases that might be causing the symptoms.
Medical staff will remove tampons, contraceptive devices, or wound packing; clean any wounds; and, if there is a pocket of infection (called an abscess), a doctor may need to drain pus from the area.
People with TSS usually need to stay in the hospital, often in the intensive care unit (ICU), for several days so doctors can monitor their blood pressure and breathing and watch for signs of other problems, such as organ damage.
TSS is a very rare illness. Although it can be fatal, if recognized and treated promptly it is usually curable.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|WomensHealth.gov The Office on Women's Health (OWH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), offers reliable health and wellness information for women and girls.|
|Hand Washing Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.|
|Cellulitis Cellulitis is a skin infection that involves areas of tissue just below the skin's surface. It can affect any part of the body, but it's most common on exposed areas, such as the face, arms, or lower legs.|
|Why Should I Care About Germs? Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease - and they're so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|Dealing With Cuts and Wounds Most cuts can be safely treated at home, but deep cuts and certain other injuries require medical treatment. Find out what to do by reading this printable instruction sheet.|
|Tampons, Pads, and Other Period Supplies When it comes to pads and tampons, there are lots of choices. It may take some experimenting before you find what works best for you. Here are some tips.|
|Tetanus Tetanus occurs when a certain type of bacterial infection grows in a contaminated wound. Because it can be serious, it's important to get immunized. Find out about tetanus and how to protect yourself against it.|
|Can You Keep Wearing a Pad You've Slept in? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Staph Infections Staph bacteria can live harmlessly on many skin surfaces. But the bacteria can get into wounds and cause an infection. Get the details in this article for teens.|
|Coping With Common Period Problems Many girls have to deal with PMS, cramps, or headaches around the time of their periods. These problems are usually nothing to worry about. Get the facts on which period problems are normal and which ones might indicate something's going on.|
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