Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening bacterial infection that is linked to using tampons. Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) can cause your body to go into shock, and it can cause liver failure, kidney failure and even heart failure.
Fortunately toxic shock syndrome is rare, but it is still something to learn about, especially if you use tampons.
What Causes Toxic Shock Syndrome
Most cases of toxic shock syndrome are caused by toxins produced by the Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. Some cases are caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes (strep) bacteria.
In the late 1970s, when the first cases of TSS were diagnosed, toxic shock syndrome was linked to the use of super absorbent tampons. Since that time, tampon manufacturers have removed some products from the market and introduced newer, safer tampons. According to the National Institute of Health, today only half of all toxic shock syndrome cases are from tampons.
Toxic shock syndrome can also be caused by skin infection, burns, and post surgical infections. TSS can also be caused with use of the diaphragm and contraceptive sponge. You can also contract TSS from a staph infection – including blood infections, bone infections, abbcesses, pneumonia.
Tampons and Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome occurs when bacteria (either staph or strep) enters into your body. The toxins produced by these strains of staph or strep bacteria can enter through an external cut or wound (like an abscess or skin infection).
In cases related to tampon use, TSS can occur when a tampon hasn’t been removed for an extended period of time. This can become a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome.
How to Prevent TSS
To prevent the risk of getting toxic shock syndrome, you should remove your tampons frequently, at least once every four to six hours.
Make sure that you also wash your hands thoroughly before and after inserting a tampon. The staph bacteria can be carried on your hands, so you can eliminate the risk by washing your hands beforehand with soap and water.
Keep in mind that the risk of toxic shock syndrome is very low and it occurs very rarely. Tampon manufacturers in the USA no longer make tampons with the materials associated with toxic shock syndrome.
However, if you leave in a tampon too long, and bacteria grows, you have an increased risk. It is also a good idea to use pads on lighter days.
If you wear a diaphragm or contraceptive sponge, it is not recommended you wear it for longer than 24 hours due to the risk of TSS.
Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome
Symptoms of toxic shock syndrome can start very quickly. It often starts with a high fever (102 degrees Fahrenheit and higher). Your blood pressure can drop quickly, causing you to feel faint and light-headed. Confusion, vomiting and diarrhea can also occur.
Other symptoms of TSS include:
- Muscle aches
- A red rash that looks like sunburn, especially on your palms and the bottom of your feet. The rash will peel after 1-2 weeks.
- Bloodshot eyes, or redness in your mouth and throat
- General ill-feeling
- Organ failure
Call the doctor immediately if you have any of the above symptoms. Toxic shock syndrome requires immediate medical care. You will often be treated with antibiotics, fluids, blood pressure medicine, and other medications your doctor deems necessary.
Fortunately, with prompt medical attention, TSS is treatable and curable.