You've Got What?
How infectious diseases are spread and simple and practical advice for preventing the spread of infection in the home and community
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a very rare but potentially serious illness that can affect males or females at any age, but is more common during adolescence. It is caused by particular strains of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (and less commonly Streptococcus pyogenes) which are able to produce a toxin.
These bacteria are normally found on the skin, in the nose, armpit, groin or vagina of one in every three people, where they usually live without causing any health problems (colonisation). In rare cases, the bacteria produce a toxin which can cause TSS in some individuals.
The majority of cases of TSS occur in women during menstruation, mostly associated with tampon use. There is no evidence that tampons directly cause TSS – the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus are the cause of the illness – not the tampon. This explains why women using pads, men and children can get TSS. However, women who use tampons during their period have a higher risk of TSS than women who do not. Cases have also followed surgery. In more than 30% of cases, no obvious bacterial infection can be found.
The symptoms of TSS are caused by the effect of the toxin on the body, rather than the bacterial infection itself.
TSS is diagnosed by clinical presentation. Sometimes bacteria producing toxin can be grown from specimens from the patient.
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
Uncertain, probably varies from case to case.
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
Direct person-to-person spread does not occur.
Antibiotics are given. If severely ill, patients may need to be supported in the intensive care unit in a hospital.
Women who have had an episode of TSS are at increased risk of a second episode. Therefore a doctor may advise against tampon use in women who have had TSS.