Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic Shock Syndrome

What is toxic shock syndrome?

Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria that is usually found on moist surfaces of the body, such as the lining of the vagina. Most of the time they are not harmful.

However sometimes these bacteria get into the bloodstream through cuts, abrasions, open wounds, burns or insect bites. While in the bloodstream they release toxins (poisons). TSS is the body's life-threatening reaction to these toxins.

The body goes into 'shock'. Blood pressure drops dramatically and blood flow to vital organs is not what it should be. Death can occur.

TSS is rare nowadays.

Doesn't TSS have something to do with tampons?

TSS is often associated with tampons. This is because in the late 1970s and early 1980s, TSS received publicity due to an outbreak of it in menstruating women. This outbreak was linked to newer forms of high-absorbency tampons. It is thought that high-absorbency tampons may dry out and tear the lining of the vagina when they are removed. This provides a way in for the bacteria which cause TSS.

Since then, the number of cases of TSS has rapidly declined. This is largely due to increased publicity about TSS and clearer instructions on tampon packets.

Today TSS is very rare, however of the cases reported, around half of them are amongst young women who use high-absorbency tampons.

Who can develop TSS?

While TSS is most commonly associated with women who use high-absorbency tampons, anyone including men can develop TSS if they have a cut, wound, insect bite or burn that gets infected with the bacteria.

What are the symptoms of TSS?

While TSS is rare and the prognosis is excellent if treated properly, fatalities can occur.

How is TSS treated?

Treatment is with antibiotic drugs. Intravenous fluids are also required to treat shock and raise the blood pressure, which in turn improves blood flow to vital organs.

What can I do to help prevent TSS?

During menstruation women should:

At other times, both men and women should:

Can TSS recur?

Sometimes. Some people who develop TSS produce antibodies against the toxins which caused it and therefore are immune to it for the rest of their lives. Others do not develop these antibodies and TSS can recur.

Women who have had TSS are advised not to use tampons, contraceptive caps or diaphragms.

Back to top of page