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Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) Signs, Symptoms and Causes

Question: What is TSS?

Dr. Farah Kroman: Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but potentially serious illness that can be related to periods and tampon use. TSS is a toxaemia (toxins circulating in the blood) caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria are found in the nose, on the skin and occasionally in the vagina of many people without causing any harm. Most people produce antibodies to the toxin (which is why TSS is rare) so there’s no harmful effect. However someone who does not produce antibodies to the toxin may get TSS.

Question: Is Toxic Shock Syndrome common?

Dr. Farah Kroman: TSS is a very rare illness, and Toxic Shock Syndrome statistics in Australia show that there have been less than 25 cases of TSS since January 1981.

Question: Do more absorbent tampons cause TSS?

Dr. Farah Kroman: Studies have shown that more absorbent tampons may have an increased risk of TSS. You should use the lowest absorbency tampons for your comfort and level of blood flow. Although TSS can happen with tampons of any absorbency, the risk increases with more absorbent tampons Don’t forget it’s recommended you should never keep your tampon in for more than eight hours. Ideally you should be changing it between three and six times a day.

Question: What are the symptoms of TSS?

Dr. Farah Kroman: Early Toxic Shock Syndrome symptoms can come on suddenly and are a bit like the flu. Remember, it’s important to recognise these TSS symptoms and get treatment early:

Feeling very ill, headache, muscular pains

High fever and chills, usually 39C or higher

Vomiting, diarrhoea or both

Fainting, dizziness, weakness or confusion

Sunburn-like rash.

These signs of TSS may appear during your period or soon after. If symptoms do appear, REMOVE YOUR TAMPON IF IN USE AND SEE A DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY. Remember it’s very important to tell the doctor that you’ve been using tampons. As TSS may cause death, early detection and treatment is essential.

Question: Can you get Toxic Shock Syndrome from sleeping with a tampon in?

Dr. Farah Kroman: Wearing tampons overnight has not been proven to raise the risk for TSS. Follow your usual tampon practices of using the lowest absorbency tampon for your flow.