Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is something that our mums, or maybe our friends, might have brought to our attention around the time that periods started.
But in general, it’s not something we think about.
Considered a rare condition, toxic shock syndrome is nevertheless incredibly dangerous, and having been in the media more often of late, we thought it a prudent time to share some information about the condition.
After hearing about the strength of model Lauren Wasser, who lost her leg to gangrene caused by toxic shock syndrome, the close call of 15-year-old Riley Whitten, who had such a bad case of TSS that even doctors were shocked at her recovery, and the tragic death of 13-year-old Jemma-Louise Roberts’, it’s clear that more people need to be aware of the condition.
For years, Toxic Shock Syndrome has been considered a rare condition, with estimates around 1 or 2 cases per 100,000. However, a researcher from the University of Iowa who has been looking into the condition says that around 10,000 get menstrual TSS every year. When not treated, or not caught in time, the condition can kill.
What is TSS and what causes it?
Toxic Shock Syndrome is a staph infection, caused by a specific bacteria known as staphylococcus aureus, or staph A. The condition happens when the bacteria enters the body, and in women, it’s commonly caused by certain types of tampons, with the super absorbent variety being the worst offenders. In these instances, it enters the body through the mucous membranes in the vagina. However, that’s not the only way that you can get it, and staph A can also enter the body through open wounds or surgical sites. As the bacteria takes hold in the body, it can become TSS, a serious condition.
What happens when you get TSS?
The main issue in diagnosing TSS is that the symptoms are not particularly unique, and the condition is often misdiagnosed by medical professionals, or caught much later than usual, because it’s so rare. In fact, the symptoms are not so different from the common flu. Women should be conscious that if they develop any of the following symptoms, and they’re wearing a tampon, to seek medical help.
- Rash that looks like sunburn on the palms and soles of feet
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Red eyes
- Joint pain
- Low blood pressure
- High fever, over 38.8 degrees
As the illness progresses, the blood pressure of the patient plummets further, which can make it impossible for the heart to supply the organs with enough blood, leading to organ failure. The time it takes for a staph infection to become TSS tends to be very short, as the infection spreads quickly around the body. As a result of this, approximately 50% of TSS cases end in death, according to the CDC in America.
Why do tampons cause TSS?
It’s worth pointing out that, although the bacteria staph A is behind people getting TSS, it’s not the bacteria itself that’s the problem. Rather it’s a toxin that’s made by the bacteria, which is particularly harmful when it enters the bloodstream.
So, the reason that tampons cause TSS is that they are left in the vagina for too long, encouraging bacteria growth, and that they stick to the walls of the vagina (when there is light flow), causing small cuts when removed. These two things together provide a playground for the staph A bacteria to both bloom and spread around the body.
How is TSS treated?
Hospitals are constantly developing different treatments for toxic bacteria infections like TSS. Treatment for the condition involves immediately removing any tampons, and taking yourself directly to the hospital. A stay in a medical facility is to be expected, during which time, patients are given lots of antibiotics and fluids to improve blood pressure and combat dehydration. A hospital stay is almost always required due to the fast moving nature of the condition, and the serious complications that arise from it, such as organ failure.
What should I do to avoid it?
As tampons are widely accepted as playing a major role in the development of TSS in the system, it pays to be very careful if they’re the sanitary item that you choose during your period.
Tampons absolutely must be changed every 4 – 8 hours, and you should always choose the lightest absorbency variety and avoid using them when you have a very light flow. If you aren’t in a position to regularly change your tampon, choose another one of the sanitary options available, from pads and pantyliners, to menstrual cups.
At the end of the day, one of the biggest deciders in whether you are at risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome is your awareness of the condition. So, be constantly cautious when using tampons, and make sure those women around you are doing the same, particularly if they aren’t aware of the dangers of TSS.
Are you using tampons?
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention. We have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice.
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.