Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS, is a serious medical condition which is caused by a bacterial infection of the genitals, which if left untreated, can lead to death.
Although it is most commonly associated with tampons (this is thoroughly explained on the pamphlet located inside the box), only half of the cases of people with TSS are linked to tampon usage. In fact, contrary to popular belief, TSS can also easily affect non-tampon using women of all ages, as well as men and children through the sharing of fluids with someone who has TSS.
Where Does TSS Come From?
TSS is most commonly caused by the bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus, but Streptococcus pyogenes has also caused TSS. This bacteria enters into the system through an open cut, wound or sore. In the case of TSS occurring after wearing a tampon for more than the recommended 8 hours, the bacteria is thought to adhere to the tampon and build up over time, resulting in this serious syndrome.
Symptoms of TSS and TSLS:
- Temperature of 102.2F or more
- Rash, Dermatitis
- Skin peeling
- Vaginal Hyperemia (a change in the vagina’s mucus membranes)
- Vomiting, Diarrhea
- Low Blood Pressure
Could it Be Something Else?
There is syndrome which mimics TSS, called Toxic Shock-Like Syndrome, or TSLS. This is caused by a strain of Streptococcal bacteria (aka a Staph infection) infiltrating an area of the body which should not contain this bacteria. Although the symptoms are identical to TSS, TSLS is not associated with tampon use. People at risk for TSLS are diabetics, people who’ve recently had surgery and those who are suffering from chickenpox because they tend to have open wounds which are more susceptible to infection.
Is TSS a Sexually Transmitted Infection?
Since TSS so regularly affects the genital region, it can often be mistaken or misdiagnosed as an STI or STD. However, a medical examination of the exact type of bacteria which is causing these symptoms will reveal whether or not TSS is the culprit. It is very possible to spread this bacteria through bodily fluids, so although TSS is not technically an STD, it can be spread through unprotected manual, oral, vaginal or anal sex and pass through open wounds, cuts or tears in the skin.
Severity of TSS
TSS and TSLS are severe infections which appear suddenly and can subsequently require hospitalization because they can lead to organ failure if not treated quickly and properly. Heavy antibiotic treatment will eliminate the Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcal and Streptococcus pyogenes bacterium from the body if taken in time. Infected abscesses will also need to be drained to completely remove the infection for a complete cure.
Prevention of TSS
To prevent getting TSS or TSLS, follow your tampon guidelines, no matter what. If you plan on sleeping more than 8 hours, strongly consider using a sanitary napkin instead. It is also important to use the smallest, or lightest flow, tampon to suit your absorption needs. Anything more is overkill.
Always remember to take out your or your partner’s tampon before having vaginal sex. If you fail to do so, it could easily get lodged in the cervix and cause TSS. Read more about period sex here. Moreover, you can keep you and your partner protected from TSS and TSLS by using always a male condom, female condom for all penetrative sexual acts and dental dams during oral sex.