Toxic Shock Syndrome

November 12, 2012

Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic Shock Syndrome (or TSS) is a rare but very serious illness which can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or race. Many people have heard quite frightening horror stories about TSS and so it seems sensible to read and learn about it so that you can implement precautions against infection.

The most common stories about Toxic Shock Syndrome appear to be linked to the use of tampons but although this serious illness was originally linked to this practice it is not the only cause. The first cases of Toxic Shock occurred in the 1970s when women used super-absorbent tampons – or even two tampons at the same time. Much research and education has since taken place leading to better habits – such as more frequent changes of tampon. Consequently there has been a dramatic drop in the number of Toxic Shock cases linked to tampon usage. Today only about 50% of all cases are linked to menstruation. Some birth control methods have also been implicated in cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome – namely the contraceptive sponge and the diaphragm. On other occasions infection has been the result of various wounds allowing bacteria to enter through broken skin.

Toxic Shock Syndrome affects the whole body, more rarely it is caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria but generally the culprit is the Staphylococcus aureus. Both of these bacteria may produce toxins which some people are unable to fight. Toxic Shock Syndrome occurs when the immune system of those people reacts to their inability to fight the toxins – it is this reaction which causes the extreme symptoms seen with TSS.

Toxic Shock Syndromehas also been linked to relatively minor skin infections that may also be linked to the chickenpox rash, cases have also been reported following surgery, childbirth and prolonged use of ‘packing’ – a procedure used to treat nosebleeds. It must be stressed that all of these occurrences are rare.

Because Toxic Shock Syndrome is an illness caused by a toxin many of the body’s organs may be affected and the symptoms may appear very suddenly – these include:-

  • High fever, a sudden, rapid drop in blood pressure.

  • Bright red rash anywhere on the body which may resemble sunburn.

  • Vomiting, diarrhea.

  • Aches and pains coupled with a general feeling of weakness.

  • Headache together with confusion, disorientation and possibly seizures.

  • Eyes, mouth, throat and even the vagina may appear bright red in colour.

  • Organ failure.

Depending on the infection the symptoms of TSS will appear within 2 or 3 days after being infected with the bacteria.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare illness and some basic, easy to follow precautions should give more than adequate protection against infection. These include:

  • Keep all skin wounds clean and dressed, change dressings regularly.

  • Check wounds regularly for infection – see your medical practitioner if the wound becomes swollen, painful or tender and red.

  • The use of pads instead of tampons when menstruating will help avoid TSS but if tampon use is preferred then use the lowest possible absorbency, change them frequently, alternate with pads. However if you have already had Toxic Shock Syndrome or have suffered a Staphylococcus aureas infection then avoid the use of both tampons and the suspect contraceptive devices.

If you suspect that you or someone else may be showing symptoms of TSS then immediate medical help must be sought. If in doubt attend a hospital emergency department as it is definitely a medical emergency.

TSS is treated with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Samples may be taken from the infected area and checked, a blood sample may also be taken – blood tests will also be done to monitor the function of various organs. Attending medical staff will need to remove any suspect items such as tampons, contraceptive devices, any wound packing etc. they will also clean all wounds and if necessary drain any pockets of infection.

Toxic Shock Syndrome can be fatal, however, if recognized quickly and promptly treated patients usually make a full recovery and it is indeed a very rare illness.


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