What are Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Toxic shock syndrome was first detected when healthy women began experiencing high fevers and other symptoms without an identifiable cause.
Toxic shock syndrome was first detected when healthy women began experiencing high fevers and other symptoms without an identifiable cause.

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a condition caused by bacterial infection. Bacterium involved is usually either strep or staph. Most associate TSS with the improper usage of tampons, which can cause immediate and life threatening illness when tampons are left in for too long. TSS can also be caused by having a dilation and curettage, having given birth, or from minor skin infections caused by chicken pox. Symptoms are varied and important to recognize as the illness requires immediate treatment.

Severe vomiting may be a symptom of toxic shock syndrome.
Severe vomiting may be a symptom of toxic shock syndrome.

The symptoms of TSS develop rapidly. They include a fever usually higher than 102°F (38.88°C), a rash covering the body, and severe vomiting or diarrhea. One may also be very light-headed or feel faint, caused by a significant drop in blood pressure. The eyes, or the vagina may appear brightly red, and the person affected may show confusion, or have a severe headache.

Toxic shock syndrome can be caused from the chicken pox.
Toxic shock syndrome can be caused from the chicken pox.

The presence of several of these symptoms constitutes an emergency, particularly if one uses tampons, contraceptive sponges, has recently given birth, had a dilation and curettage, miscarriage or is recovering from chicken pox. Treatment required is immediate, usually intravenous (IV) antibiotics to stop the illness from spreading.

Failing to treat TSS can result in severe kidney infection and ultimately death; thus, signs of this illness should never be ignored. While those affected are usually hospitalized, doctors will be sure to look for the presence of abscesses, which may result from a tampon or contraceptive sponge that has been left in place too long. Caught early, TSS responds well to antibiotics and tends to restore people to complete health.

Prolonged use of tampons can lead to bacterial build up in the vaginal canal, which can cause infection.
Prolonged use of tampons can lead to bacterial build up in the vaginal canal, which can cause infection.

Young girls who have just begun menstruating seem to be at increased risk for contracting TSS from tampon use. They often use too large of a tampon, or may forget its presence because they are simply not used to menstruation. Risk is eliminated when girls use maxi-pads instead of tampons.

Risk of TSS can be significantly reduced for others by observing proper care of wounds, cuts or abscesses. Signs of skin infection due to chicken pox or cuts, for example, should be brought to the attention of a doctor so the infection does not become TSS.

Young girls seem to be at increased risk of developing TSS from wearing tampons.
Young girls seem to be at increased risk of developing TSS from wearing tampons.

In most countries, TSS after childbirth or miscarriage is rare. It used to frequently kill women before doctors realized that clean hands could prevent possible exposure of the uterus and cervix to bacteria. Handwashing practices should be observed during any birth, and those who have children in hospitals should not hesitate to ask a practitioner or nurse to wash their hands prior to any examination. It is better to offend someone, than to expose oneself to this severe illness. Most doctors and nurses are more than happy to comply with this request.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

cmsmith10

Heads up guys! Whereas 30 to 50% of TSS patients are women, TSS can affect men as well. For women, it is said that super-absorbent tampons dry out the skin and cause cracks that allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream. For men, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream through surgery. Other ways that men can contract TSS is through burns, open wounds, and the use of a prosthetic. Men and women that have the chicken pox or the flu are at an increased risk for developing TSS.

In a nutshell, other than tampon usage, men and women can contract TSS in the same way.

bookworm

Toxic shock syndrome first became known as a unique syndrome in the late 1970's. There is no particular test that could identify toxic shock syndrome, however, blood tests are performed and by the method of elimination it is confirmed whether toxic shock syndrome is present.

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    • Toxic shock syndrome was first detected when healthy women began experiencing high fevers and other symptoms without an identifiable cause.
      Toxic shock syndrome was first detected when healthy women began experiencing high fevers and other symptoms without an identifiable cause.
    • Severe vomiting may be a symptom of toxic shock syndrome.
      Severe vomiting may be a symptom of toxic shock syndrome.
    • Toxic shock syndrome can be caused from the chicken pox.
      Toxic shock syndrome can be caused from the chicken pox.
    • Prolonged use of tampons can lead to bacterial build up in the vaginal canal, which can cause infection.
      Prolonged use of tampons can lead to bacterial build up in the vaginal canal, which can cause infection.
    • Young girls seem to be at increased risk of developing TSS from wearing tampons.
      Young girls seem to be at increased risk of developing TSS from wearing tampons.