Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is an illness caused by bacterial toxins, most commonly of the Streptococcus and Staphylococcus families.
Bacteria of the Staphylococcus family, such as S. aureus, are present normally in one of three healthy people. They usually live on the skin or in the nose, while Streptococcus can be found in the mouth, at the back of the throat or on the skin or inside the intestines.
Although it can affect both men and women at any age, TSS is associated with the use of tampons in women.
Symptoms of toxic shock include fever of 102 F or 39 C, vomiting, diarrhea, rash similar to a sunburn, fatigue, muscle ache, confusion and dizziness.
Persons who experience these symptoms should see a doctor immediately, especially if they are women currently using a tampon.
TSS is potentially life threatening, it may cause a severe drop of the blood pressure which makes the blood pull from the organs causing damage to the kidneys, lungs and liver.
Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria release toxins. Since they are normally present in the human body they are not harmful unless there is a change in the immune system, a stress, trauma or injury, they may penetrate the blood stream and cause problems.
Toxic shock syndrome may occur after a wound is inflicted or after a surgical procedure and after a virus or bacterial infection or after nipple piercing. Women are at risk of TSS during menstruation, especially of they are wearing a tampon, after childbirth or if they use a diaphragm or a cap as a form of contraception.
Doctors usually diagnose TSS according to the symptoms mentioned above. It is important to give them a full medical history and mentioned if there was a recent injury, illness or surgery. Also, women who were using a tampon when the symptoms occurred need to report that to the doctor.
After TSS is diagnosed, the patient will need to be admitted to a hospital in some cases to the intensive care unit. If there is a wound the doctors will clean it first and if a woman is using a tampon it will be removed immediately. Antibiotics will be administered through a drip to fight the infection.
Some TSS patients need an oxygen mask and some even require intensive support, like ventilators, in case the lungs are affected, or kidney dialysis.
Because it is caused by bacteria, TSS is not easy to prevent. However, it is important to seek medical assistance as soon as TSS symptoms appear so massive damage to the organs can be prevented.
Women are generally advised to avoid tampons and use sanitary pads and panty liners instead. Tampons should not be worn at night, they should be changed frequently and with clean hands.