October 02, 2019
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
If you’re a woman that has menstruated at some point in your life, it is almost certain you’ve heard warnings about Toxic Shock Syndrome. Most women associate this scary term with tampons. Besides the terrifying messages middle school girls receive in sex-ed class, there are warnings in the instructions and on the box warning women of the fatal disease that may develop with the use of tampons. According to feminine hygiene product manufacturer Playtex, “the reported risks are higher to women under 30 years of age and teenage girls. The incidence of TSS is estimated to be between 1 and 17 cases of TSS per 100,000 menstruating women and girls per year.” So while the complication is rare, it can be fatal. Menstruating women are not the only ones that can develop toxic shock syndrome, however. People of all ages and genders can get TSS. But what exactly is this disease?
What is TSS?The Mayo Clinic defines Toxic Shock Syndrome as a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. The most common bacterial infection that causes Toxic Shock Syndrome is Staphylococcus aureus or staph bacteria. TSS can also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Risk factors for developing it include a burn or cut on the skin, recent surgical procedure, a viral infection (like the flu or chickenpox), cellulitis, nose bleed packaging, childbirth, or as mentioned before the use of tampons, contraceptive sponges, or diaphragms. There have been studies linking super-absorbent tampons to a higher risk of TSS than less absorbent sizes. Menstruating women make up about half of TSS cases linked to staph bacteria, with the rest of the cases affecting men, children, and postmenopausal women. TSS caused by the strep bacteria can affect anyone.
SymptomsIf you meet any of the risk factors, you’re obviously more likely to develop signs of TSS than someone who does not. It is important to listen to your body and pay attention to the signs it gives you that something is wrong, and not to simply brush them off. Toxic Shock Syndrome is deadly and acts quickly, usually showing symptoms 2 days after the bacteria infects the body. Because it is an infection, TSS symptoms are similar to what you would expect with any other kind of infection. Symptoms include:
- a high temperature (fever) of 39C (102.2F) or above
- flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, chills, muscle aches, sore throat, and cough
- feeling and being sick
- a widespread sunburn-like rash
- the whites of the eyes, lips, and tongue turning a bright red
- dizziness or fainting
- breathing difficulties
SolutionsIf you start to develop any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately, especially if you have an increased risk of getting TSS. Untreated symptoms can lead to shock, renal failure, and death. There are several ways that doctors and healthcare professionals treat Toxic Shock Syndrome. They include:
- antibiotics to treat the infection
- pooled immunoglobulin
- oxygen to help with breathing
- fluids to help prevent dehydration and organ damage
- medication to help control blood pressure
- dialysis if the kidneys stop functioning
- in severe cases, surgery to remove any dead tissue – rarely, it may be necessary to amputate the affected area