Toxic shock syndrome
What is it?
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, life-threatening complication of bacterial infection that has been most often associated with the use of superabsorbent tampons and occasionally with the use of contraceptive sponges.
Often toxic shock syndrome results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.
While the syndrome often occurs in menstruating women, it can also affect men, children and postmenopausal women. Other risk factors for toxic shock syndrome include skin wounds and surgery.
Signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome develop suddenly, and the disease can be fatal. You can take steps to reduce your risk of toxic shock syndrome.
The signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome may include:
- A sudden high fever
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
- A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles — which, after a week or so, generally leads to peeling of the skin on your hands and feet
- Muscle aches
- Redness of your eyes, mouth and throat
Researchers don't know exactly how tampons may cause toxic shock syndrome. Some believe that when superabsorbent tampons are left in place for a long time, the tampons become a breeding ground for bacteria. Others have suggested that the superabsorbent fibers in the tampons can scratch the surface of the vagina, making it possible for bacteria or their toxins to enter the bloodstream.
It's not just young, menstruating women who can develop toxic shock syndrome. About half the current cases occur in nonmenstruating people, including older women, men and children. Toxic shock syndrome has occurred in women who had been wearing a diaphragm or a contraceptive sponge. It's possible for anyone to develop toxic shock syndrome in the course of a staph or strep infection. The syndrome may occur in association with skin wounds or surgery.
There's no one specific test for toxic shock syndrome. You may need to provide blood and urine samples to test for the presence of a staph or strep infection. Samples from your vagina, cervix and throat may be taken for laboratory analysis by using cotton swabs.