The entire world was appalled by the horrifying but sad tale of Lauren Wasser, an American model who was diagnosed with and lost both legs to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) in 2012. Wasser got TSS while using tampons during a period. Since the occurrence of this incident, TSS has been a cause for concern for women all over the world. This is what you need to know about this devastating medical condition.

What is TSS?

TSS is an uncommon but extremely life-threatening medical condition which is usually caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus or staph getting into the bloodstream and producing toxins – these toxins cause a bacterial infection which gives rise to this condition.

TSS has been mostly associated with the use of superabsorbent tampons by women who menstruate, however, it is widely known that everyone irrespective of age and gender can be affected too.

What are the symptoms of TSS?

With TSS, no two persons will exhibit similar symptoms but generally, these are the symptoms;

  • a fever which occurs suddenly and is usually very high,
  • a drop in blood pressure,
  • aches (usually headaches and muscle aches),
  • diarrhoea,
  • seizures,
  • nausea that results in vomiting,
  • redness of the eyes, mouth and throat and
  • a skin rash which appears on the palms and soles and looks like sunburn.


  • You should see a doctor straight away if you experience any of these symptoms particularly if you use tampons regularly, have used tampons recently, have recently had surgery or have a skin injury or wound which is infected.
  • TSS has flu-like symptoms and can easily be mistaken for flu.

What causes TSS?

Toxic Shock Syndrome is usually caused by bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (staph), although the syndrome can also be caused by group A Streptococcus (strep). The bacterial infection occurs when bacteria enter the body where there is some kind of wound. The million-dollar question is – how then do tampons cause this condition? Most likely, tampons left inside the body for long become a breeding ground for bacteria, moreover, the materials that tampons are made of may irritate the vagina and create cracks or cuts through which the bacteria can seep through.

It is worth noting that group A Streptococcus (strep) can cause another type of condition called Toxic Shock-like Syndrome which is very much like TSS but is not linked to tampon use. People who usually are at risk are diabetics, alcoholics, people who have chickenpox and people who have recently undergone surgery.

What are the risk factors?

A person's chances of getting this condition increase with the following conditions:

  • They have an open wound on their skin,
  • They have recently had surgery,
  • They have recently delivered and
  • They regularly use tampons (the superabsorbent type) or other contraceptives like IUD, menstrual cups, diaphragms and vaginal sponges.

How is TSS diagnosed?

A diagnosis of TSS is usually done based on:

  • Symptoms and a physical exam,
  • Blood testing (to find out the function of major organs such as the kidney and liver),
  • Blood and urine samples (to check for signs of the bacteria) and
  • Vaginal, cervix and throat swabs.

Results from these are investigated to determine if the bacteria that cause the condition exist in a person's body.

How is TSS treated?

The syndrome is treated by a doctor administering antibiotics by intravenous to a patient for about 6 to 8 weeks. Treatment also involves the removal of the root cause of the infection such as a vaginal sponge or menstrual cup or tampon. However, if the cause of the infection is an open wound, a doctor would have to clean up the wound. Other supportive treatments would be administering IV fluids to keep a patient hydrated, medications to keep blood pressure under control, to boost immunity and to fight inflammation.

What are the complications of TSS?

Failure of major body organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart are expected complications of TSS.

How can TSS be prevented?

There are certain hygiene protocols to observe to avoid getting Toxic Shock Syndrome. One should:

  • Wash hands often,
  • Change tampons every 4 to 8 hours,
  • Switch from superabsorbent to low absorbency tampons and
  • Use sanitary pads, napkins or towels when their period is light.toxic shock syndrome

If you use menstrual cups, be sure to:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching your cup,
  • Empty your menstrual cup not more than every 12 hours,toxic shock syndrome
  • Keep your nails short and clean so you don't hurt yourself when sticking in your cup and
  • Disinfect your cup at the end of every period.

WARNING: Do not use tampons or any other intravaginal menstrual products if you've had TSS before since TSS has the tendency to be a recurring ailment.

By Nana Ama Afoa Osae I Writer I GreatWonderful Team

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