Toxic Shock Syndrome

September 29, 2011

Toxic shock syndrome is a serious illness that occurs in response to the absorption of a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) into the general circulation. Most cases occur in women who are menstruating. In order for toxic shock syndrome to develop, the person must be colonized with the bacterium Staph aureus and there must be a port of entry for the bacteria.

Common sites of entry can be abrasions in the vaginal area or on the skin. Women who use tampons that are too absorbent are at risk for developing this syndrome because insertion and removal of the tampon can cause microabrasions that can allow the Staph aureus to enter the general circulation. After this occurs, the bacteria produce a powerful toxin that causes an acute illness. Symptoms include fever of over 102oF, low blood pressure, shock, sunburn-like rash, vomiting, and diarrhea. Toxic shock can be fatal.

All women who are tampon users should be aware of the signs of toxic shock. Tampons should not be worn in a greater absorbency than needed. Tampons should not be left in for longer than 3-4 hours. If toxic shock syndrome is suspected, a health care provider should be notified immediately.

See Also: Menstruation, Tampon

Suggested Reading

  • Chin, H. (1997). On call: Obstetrics and gynecology (p. 283).
  • Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders. Scott, J., et al. (1999). Danforth’s obstetrics and gynecology (8th ed., p. 287). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.


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