Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but serious medical condition caused by toxins produced by certain types of bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus. Although TSS can affect anyone, it is often associated with menstruating women who use tampons. This association has led to concerns about the safety of tampons and their role in the development of TSS. In this article, we will explore the prevalence of TSS from tampons, its causes, symptoms, and risk factors.
What is toxic shock syndrome?
TSS is a rare but potentially life-threatening medical condition that can affect both men and women. It is caused by toxins produced by certain types of bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus (staph) or Streptococcus pyogenes (strep). TSS can occur in anyone who has been exposed to these bacteria, but it is most commonly associated with menstruating women who use tampons.
TSS can affect multiple organ systems, including the skin, respiratory, and gastrointestinal tracts. Symptoms of TSS can vary depending on the severity of the infection, but may include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, a rash resembling a sunburn, low blood pressure, and seizures. If left untreated, TSS can progress quickly and lead to organ failure and death.
How common is TSS from tampons?
TSS is a rare condition, with an estimated incidence of 1-2 cases per 100,000 people per year in the United States. The incidence of TSS associated with tampon use has decreased significantly since the 1980s, when there was a widespread public health campaign to educate women about the link between tampons and TSS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 323 cases of menstrual TSS reported in the United States between 2010 and 2019. Of these cases, 74% occurred in women under the age of 30, and 63% were associated with tampon use. The remaining cases were associated with the use of menstrual cups or no menstrual product at all.
Although TSS associated with tampon use is rare, it is important to note that the risk of TSS increases with prolonged tampon use, higher absorbency tampons, and leaving tampons in for longer than recommended. The risk of TSS is also higher in women who have had TSS before, have open wounds or sores in the vagina, or use barrier contraception like diaphragms or cervical caps.
What are the symptoms of TSS?
The symptoms of TSS can vary depending on the severity of the infection, but may include:
- High fever
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
- Low blood pressure
- Headache or muscle aches
- Confusion or disorientation
If you experience any of these symptoms, particularly if you are using a tampon or have recently used one, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. TSS can progress quickly and lead to organ failure and death if left untreated.
How is TSS diagnosed and treated?
TSS is a medical emergency and requires prompt treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of TSS and have recently used a tampon, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may order blood tests to check for signs of infection or organ damage.
Treatment for TSS typically involves hospitalization and supportive care, such as IV fluids and antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove infected tissue or organs.
How can I prevent TSS?
The risk of TSS can be reduced by following these tips:
- Use the lowest absorbency tampon necessary for your flow, and change it at least every 4-8 hours. Consider using pads or menstrual cups instead of tampons.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after inserting a tampon.
- Avoid using tampons overnight, and consider using a pad instead.
- Alternate between tampons and pads during your period.
- Avoid using scented tampons or pads, as they can cause irritation and increase the risk of infection.
- Read and follow the instructions on the tampon package carefully.
- If you have had TSS before, consider using an alternative menstrual product or speak with your doctor about your risk.
TSS is a rare but serious medical condition that can be caused by toxins produced by certain types of bacteria, most commonly staph or strep. While TSS associated with tampon use is rare, it is important to be aware of the risk factors and take steps to reduce your risk. By following the tips above, you can help prevent TSS and ensure a safe and healthy menstrual experience. If you experience symptoms of TSS, particularly if you are using a tampon or have recently used one, seek medical attention immediately.