Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but very serious illness, caused by a Staphlococcus (aureus and pyogenes) bacterial infection entering the blood stream.

Summary

TSS may be serious enough to cause damage to vital organs.

Healthy people can carry the Staphlococcus aureus bacteria on their skin without any sign of infection. Most people have developed a resistance to Staphlococcus aureus but some people lack the ability to neutralise a specific toxin, and therefore are more susceptible to TSS.

TSS is rare, and can affect both men and women, but it is often associated with the incorrect use of tampons. That’s because tampons may contain very small amounts of bacteria normally in the air or skin.

Other risk factors include:

  • recent childbirth, miscarriage or abortion, and the use of birth control devices such as the diaphragm or contraceptive sponges
  • foreign bodies, including nasal packing to stop nosebleeds and wound packing after surgery
  • wound infection after surgery.

Symptoms

Symptoms can develop very quickly and may initially feel similar to the flu.

If you’re feeling ill, with any of the following symptoms, the most important thing is to seek medical attention – especially if you feel ill during or soon after your period or have had recent surgery.

  • A headache and muscle weakness/pains
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • A rash similar to sunburn
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea, or both
  • A high fever and chills

Don’t forget to tell your doctor if you’ve been using tampons.

Need help? You can call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116 or see your family doctor.

Prevention

Luckily, there are ways to avoid getting TSS – and they’re all straight forward.

For women using tampons

  • Wash your hands before and after you change your tampon.
  • Only use tampons when you are menstruating.
  • Only use one tampon at a time.
  • Don’t force the tampon to fit.
  • Use the lowest absorbency tampon necessary to suit your flow.
  • Change your tampon regularly – every 8 hours at the very least.
  • Take your tampon out when you go to sleep.
  • Use the tampon immediately after you unwrap it and don’t handle the tampon more than necessary – if packing is broken throw them away!
  • Don’t forget to remove the last tampon used at the end of your period.

For everyone

  • Wash you hands regularly.
  • Take care of wounds properly – seek medical advice if you are not sure what to do.
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