Toxic shock syndrome (also known as TSS) is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacteria entering the body and releasing harmful toxins into the bloodstream. It can rapidly damage several different organs, including the lungs, kidneys, and liver – and be fatal if not treated quickly.
It’s often associated with tampon use in young women, but it can affect anyone of any age – including men and children. Using tampons, particularly leaving them in for longer than recommended or using “super-absorbent” tampons can increase the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome.
Toxic shock syndrome results from an infection caused by streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria. These bacteria are common and usually don’t cause problems. But if a tampon is retained in the vagina for prolonged periods of time, it may create an environment for bacteria to grow very quickly, producing a toxin that can be released into the blood stream and cause a severe immune reaction. This reaction causes the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome.
It isn’t contagious, but if you have had TSS before, you are more likely to get it again as you won’t develop immunity to it.
Symptoms of TSS can be flu-like, such as experiencing muscle aches and pains, stomach cramps, a headache, or a sore throat. Symptoms worsen quickly and can be deadly within just a couple of days. Others symptoms include:
- Sudden fever of over 39°C.
- Signs of shock, including low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting; or fainting or feeling lightheaded, restless, or confused.
- A rash that looks like a sunburn.
Having sudden, severe symptoms is one of the most important indicators. If you have a combination of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your GP, local out of hours service or NHS 111 as soon as possible. If symptoms rapidly worsen, go to your nearest accident and emergency department or call 999 for an ambulance immediately.
TSS treatment requires hospitalization, possibly in the intensive care unit. Treatment may involve antibiotics to fight the infection, other medications to treat complications such as lung, liver or kidney failure; and in very serious cases, surgery or even amputation may be required to remove any dead tissue.
Recovery from toxic shock syndrome varies: most people will start to feel better within a few days, but it will take longer if there have been major complications.
Can you prevent toxic shock syndrome
Around half of the cases are from women using tampons, and even more likely in women using highly absorbent tampons, using tampons for more days than necessary, and keeping a single tampon in place for too long a period of time, such as overnight. Therefore, regularly changing tampons, using the lowest absorbency tampon and using sanitary pads will minimize the risk.
The number of cases of menstrual-associated toxic shock syndrome (1 case per 100,000) has declined over the last two decades, however, the best prevention is to avoid using tampons completely – particularly if you have had it before.
A healthier alternative to using tampons is Pectiv®, a range of next generation sanitary pads that not only lock in moisture effectively, but also contain revolutionary nanotechnology that actively fights bacteria, irritation, itching and odors. Pectiv® offers long-lasting comfort and protection whilst being gentle on your intimate area, giving you peace of mind – so whatever your day brings, you can feel confident!