What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

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Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a violent inflammation, caused by a bacterium: staphylococcus aureus (staphylococcus aureus). This bacterium produces a toxin, which enters the bloodstream before reaching one or more organs.

Staphylococcus aureus is naturally present in our environment and remains harmless if it remains on our skin, but when it manages to introduce its toxin into the bloodstream, it then becomes dangerous for the body.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is commonly associated with tampon use in women. Whatever their composition, these internal absorbents can create an environment conducive to the proliferation of bacteria. Microlesions in the vaginal wall allow bacteria to infiltrate and accumulate in the vagina. In 70% of cases, shock occurs during menstruation, so it is menstrual shock.

Toxic shock syndrome can affect any part of the body, although it usually occurs in the vagina.

The infection can also appear in women with amenorrhea or those who do not use tampons. In this case, it is non-menstrual toxic shock syndrome. It occurs in the following cases:

  • When strains of Staphylococcus aureus or Staphylococcus aureus secrete toxins
  • Following the use of vaginal contraceptives e.g. contraceptive sponges
  • After a vaginal infection
  • Following childbirth.

Non-menstrual toxic shock syndrome (TSS) can also occur in women, men or children as a reaction to post-surgical wounds, burns, certain skin infections…

Toxic shock syndrome can be fatal, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms.

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Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) manifests with high fever, sore throat and headache, vomiting, diarrhea, intermittent confusional state, and skin rash.

The severity of the condition varies depending on the degree of absorbency and the chemical composition of the pad or internal absorbent used.

Untreated inflammation can lead to severe shock and change the functioning of other organs in the human body. While the initial symptoms may improve, toxic shock syndrome may continue to progress through the body and damage organs such as the kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs.

Check quickly if these symptoms occur during your period, if you have used tampons or if you have a skin infection.

Diagnosis of toxic shock syndrome

To detect bacterial infection, clinical observation is essential. The doctor isolates the microorganism and then performs a bacterial culture.

Your doctor may also examine blood and urine samples. The vagina, neck and throat can also be scanned to take samples for laboratory analysis. Other diagnostic procedures such as MRI or CT scans may be helpful in pinpointing affected tissues.

To assess the consequences of the disease, you may be prescribed other tests such as lumbar puncture or chest x-ray.

Treatment of toxic shock syndrome

For mild cases, the infection can be treated with antibiotics to eliminate pathogenic microorganisms and prevent relapses.

In developed cases, immunoglobulins can be administered to neutralize the toxins produced by the bacteria. The effect lasts for weeks, but the disease may not induce active immunity, so relapses are possible.

The syndrome is a recurrent pathology that tends to occur in women already affected by the infection in 30-40% of cases.

If the toxins have affected the skin tissue or other extremities of the body like the fingers or toes, the infected area should be detoxified.

In very severe cases, surgery may be needed to clear the infection, remove dead tissue, or drain the infected wound.

Basically, emergency treatment for the syndrome includes:

  • Removal of foreign bodies, related to infection
  • Surgical decontamination of the wound and removal of devitalized tissue
  • Administration of antibiotics
  • Fluid resuscitation to rehydrate the patient and correct fluid imbalances

The doctor should also monitor renal, hepatic and cardiopulmonary functions.

How to avoid toxic shock syndrome?

If you use tampons, read the labels carefully and opt for tampons with a minimal absorption rate. It is recommended to change tampons regularly, every 4 hours maximum for each use.

Alternate internal and external absorbents, such as tampons and sanitary napkins, to allow time for the toxins to dissipate. If the menstrual flow is soft, small pads are the best solution.

Be careful, menstrual cups can also cause toxic shock syndrome. According to a study published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, menstrual cups create ideal conditions for the proliferation of staphylococcus aureus in the vagina.

If you have ever suffered from toxic shock syndrome, acute inflammation due to staph infection or bacterial infection, do not use tampons. Toxic shock syndrome may recur.

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