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Know the Facts About…Toxic Shock Syndrome

by Karen Rollins Jun 10, 2019

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Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but life-threatening illness that can develop rapidly. It affects men, women and children but a lot of the cases of TSS involve women using tampons.

If it is diagnosed early, TSS can be successfully treated, and the person affected will have a good chance of a full recovery.

But many people leave it too late to get help because they don’t know the signs and symptoms of the illness – below are some important facts you should know about TSS.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic Shock Syndrome is caused by bacteria which normally lives harmlessly on the skin, nose or mouth, getting deeper into the body and releasing harmful toxins that can damage tissue and stop organs from working.

Anyone can get TSS, for example following burns, boils, insect bites or infections after surgery, but about half of the reported cases are linked to women who use tampons.

Why are tampons a source of TSS?

It’s not entirely clear why there’s a link between TSS and tampon use but it’s believed that the blood that accumulates in a tampon can serve as a culture medium for bacteria.

Experts say the TSS risk from tampons also increases if they are left in for longer than recommended, or if “super-absorbent” tampons are used. But if tampons are used correctly then the risk from TSS is low.

I use tampons what should I do?

If you use tampons it’s recommended that you always choose one with the lowest absorbency suitable for your period flow, and use a sanitary towel or panty liner from time to time during your period.

Tampon manufacturers include information about TSS in the instruction leaflet, so you should read this carefully and regularly because it is often updated based on the latest research.

When using tampons it is also important to remember the following:

– wash your hands before and after inserting a tampon

– never insert more than one tampon at a time

– change tampons regularly, as often as directed on the pack

– when using at night, insert a fresh tampon before going to bed and remove it when you get up

– remove a tampon at the end of a period

What are the symptoms of TSS?

Some of the symptoms of TSS are similar to severe ‘flu’, which is why some people delay getting treatment.

Signs of the illness usually include some or all of the following:

– a sudden high temperature (fever) of 39C or 102.2F or above

– diarrhea

– feeling and being sick

– the whites of the eyes, lips and tongue turning a bright red

– muscle aches

– difficulty breathing

– a widespread sunburn-like rash

– dizziness or fainting

– confusion

A diagnosis of TSS is rare, but the illness gets worse very quickly and can be fatal, so if you experience any of these symptoms you should immediately contact a doctor or go to the hospital.

Sources: Toxicshock.com / NHS UK / CNN