Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone – men, children, and menopausal women. It is a condition that results from a Staphylococcus aureus (staph) infection or Streptococcal strain of bacteria. Women aged 15 to 25 who use tampons during menstruation are most at risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS). The first case occurred in 1980 when several healthy women from different states died due to an unexplained illness. It involved a fever, shock, and multiple organ failure. After 1986, TSS cases decreased due to the introduction of federal regulations and the removal of super-absorbent tampons from the market.
Does Toxic Shock Syndrome Have Long-Term Effects?
Most patients who develop TSS make a full recovery. However, little information about its long-term effects is known since TSS is rare. There are some instances of persistent muscle weakness and psychological impact (difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and emotional changes). Women who have had TSS before should consider using alternate contraception and avoid using tampons.
Many instances of TSS involve tampon use, specifically “super absorbent” tampons. Soft-tissue injuries can also lead to TSS, including childbirth complications, an injury or burn, a localized infection (boil), or using a contraceptive sponge. The bacteria that cause TSS are not uncommon since between 20 and 30 percent of all humans have S. aureus on their skin and nose. But it poses no threat because most people have antibodies to protect them. However, some people may not have the necessary antibodies for protection.
One possibility is that super-absorbent tampons, which remain inside the body the longest, become breeding grounds for bacteria. Another possibility is that tampon fibers scratch the vagina, making it easy for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The action or composition of the tampons and pre-existing Streptococcal bacteria in the vagina may activate the disease. There is no substantial evidence to support either of these possibilities. But, the bacteria enter the body through wounds, localized infections, the vagina, the throat, or burns. The bacteria interfere with blood pressure regulation, leading to hypertension (low blood pressure).
Medical teams strive to fight the infection and support any bodily functions affected by TSS. The patient will be hospitalized and may be placed in an intensive care unit.
Treatment can include:
- Oxygen: To support breathing
- Fluids: To prevent dehydration and bring blood pressure back to normal
- Kidneys: A dialysis machine can treat kidney failure by filtering toxins and waste out of the bloodstream
- Damage to skin, fingers, or toes: Doctors may drain and clean wounds in these locations (in severe cases, amputation)
- Antibiotics: Can be given by IV, directly into the bloodstream
- Immunoglobulin: Samples of donated human blood with high levels of antibodies can be administered to fight the toxin (sometimes combined with antibiotics)
Passport Health offers a variety of vaccination and physical services to help you stay safe and healthy at home and abroad. Call 937-306-7541 or book online to schedule your appointment today.
Written for Passport Health by Shelbi Jackson. Shelbi is a freelance writer from Illinois. She enjoys writing about various topics from health care to music and book reviews. In her free time, you can find her at a live event, taking a stroll outside, or playing with the family dogs.