Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS, is a very rare but serious illness. It’s caused by certain types of bacteria entering the bloodstream. It develops very quickly and is life-threatening, affecting the liver, lungs, and kidneys.
It’s commonly associated with tampon use. But actually, only about half of Toxic Shock Syndrome cases are related to menstruation. TSS can affect anyone, so it’s important for anyone to know about the signs and risks!
What causes Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic Shock Syndrome is caused by one of two different types of bacteria: either Staphylococcus aureus (also called staph) or Group A streptococcus (or strep). Most cases are caused by staph infections.
Staph bacteria is present in the nose, mouth, and genitals of up to 30% of people, and usually is harmless. But like strep, it can create toxins in the bloodstream that can affect the internal organs. Because most people have developed antibodies to these toxins, it’s very rare for this to cause serious health problems. But when it does, it happens extremely quickly.
While most people think of TSS as being caused by tampons, strep and staph bacteria can also get into the bloodstream through open wounds in the skin, or from complications during surgery.
While leaving a tampon in for a long time can increase your risk for TSS, there are other risk factors too! These include:
- Using a contraceptive sponge or diaphragm
- A recent injury or surgery, especially one that resulted in a staph infection
- A past history of TSS
- A recent respiratory infection, like pneumonia or COVID-19
What are the signs of Toxic Shock Syndrome?
The symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome are:
- A high fever
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
- Dizziness or fainting
- Redness in the eyes and mouth
- A red, sunburn-like rash
- Soreness at the site of an injury or surgical site
Toxic Shock Syndrome can be fatal if left untreated. If someone is showing the signs of TSS, they need to be diagnosed and treated at a hospital right away.
How can I lower my risk?
Most people’s risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome is already very low. But there are ways you can lower it even more! These include:
- Washing your hands before and after inserting a tampon, diaphragm, or contraceptive sponge
- Not leaving a tampon, diaphragm, or contraceptive sponge in for longer than 12 hours
- Using low-absorbency tampons
- Alternating tampon use with a menstrual cup or pads
- Keeping any wounds clean, especially after a surgery
While most people aren’t at serious risk for TSS, a small minority are. Washing your hands regularly can help prevent the bacteria that cause TSS from spreading to others who might be at risk!