Toxic Shock Syndrome: Risks, Symptoms, Treatments

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare disease associated mostly with the use of tampons. What are the risks, symptoms and treatments and how can it be prevented?

Growing up, our school nurse had "the talk" with the elementary-aged girls concerning different stages in our life, including the menstrual cycle we would all eventually have. When we all eventually began our menstrual cycles, we were suddenly bombarded with advertisements on pads and tampons and commercials on television promoting the use of one over the other. I distinctly remember reading an article in one of my teenage girly magazines about something called Toxic Shock Syndrome and how it was associated with the use of tampons. I never read through the entire article, but vowed then and there never to use a tampon. As research on Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) has shown, however, this is a very rare illness that is not necessarily always associated with tampon use, as it strikes men, women and children, alike.

Only one to two people out of every 100,000 gets TSS each year in the United States, and, of those few cases, only five percent have complications that lead to death. Those at risk of developing TSS include women who use tampons, women who use barrier forms of birth control, people who have recently had nasal surgery and people who have a wound that gets infected. The public usually hears about TSS associated mainly with tampons, however, since most of the TSS cases do involve women and tampon use. TSS first made headlines back in the 1970s as women began to use tampons that were highly absorbent. As manufacturers have stopped producing these highly absorbent tampons, the cases of TSS have decreased rapidly.

Most people carry around a bacteria on their skin and in their noses that is basically harmless called staphylococcus aureus. Just because this bacteria is present on many people, however, does not mean that a person is going to get some kind of disease just by being a carrier. However, there have been reported cases of infections in the skin, blood and wounds and food poisoning due to this bacteria.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, call 911 or your physician immediately. Diarrhea, severe headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, high fevers, vomiting, a rash resembling a sunburn on the feet or palms and a sudden decrease in blood pressure are all symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome and should be reported ASAP. The two major ways that TSS is treated once it has been contracted are to treat the symptoms (i.e. low blood pressure) with various medications and intravenous liquids. Your physician will more than likely also prescribe an antibiotic to help eliminate the bacteria.

Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent TSS. If you can, stop using tampons, especially if you have ever had the symptoms of TSS before with the use of tampons. If you do choose to wear tampons, be sure to follow the instructions given as to how many hours a tampon should be worn and, if at all possible, switch out the tampon with a normal sanitary napkin every so often. Always be sure to wash your hands before inserting or removing a tampon. If you have any wounds on your skin, be sure to keep them as clean and sterile as possible. Also, if you notice any wounds that are not getting better and healing properly, talk to your physician.

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