Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)


What is TSS and what causes it?

TSS is short hand for Toxic Shock Syndrome. It is an extremely rare (and usually preventable), but serious disease that can occur in men, women and children, sometimes resulting in death. It is mentioned in relation to tampons because some cases of TSS have been associated with the use of tampons and some scientific data suggests that the use of tampons increases the risk of TSS. However, tampons themselves have not been found to cause TSS.

TSS is caused by the bacterium called Staphylococcus Aureus, which exists normally in the nose, armpits, groin or vagina of about 1/3 of the healthy population. Sometimes certain strains of this bacterium give off a toxin (poison) that gets into the body, probably through the bloodstream.

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How will I know if I have TSS?

TSS symptoms appear very quickly and are often severe. These include a sudden high fever, usually over 39 degrees C, vomiting, diarrhoea, a sun burn like rash, dizziness or fainting. However, not all TSS cases are exactly alike, and not all of these symptoms are always present. If you start to show one or more of these symptoms during your period, take out the tampon, if you're using one, and consult your doctor immediately.

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What should I do if I get TSS symptoms during my period?

If you're using a tampon, remove it immediately and contact your doctor at once. Don't be afraid to suggest TSS! Your doctor may want to know what your symptoms are and when they started, when your period began, whether you've had TSS before and what brand and absorbency of tampon you use -- regular, super, super plus etc. If you're at the doctor, make sure you ask to have your blood pressure checked.

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Is TSS curable?

Providing it is recognised quickly, TSS can be successfully treated with antibiotics and treatment for shock symptoms - and most people make a full recovery. That's why it is really important to get medical attention immediately if you start to show TSS symptoms during your period.

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How can I reduce my chance of getting TSS?

Probably the single best thing you can do is to use the lowest absorbency or size tampon that meets your menstrual flow needs. You may also be able to help reduce your chance of getting TSS during menstruation by using tampons correctly, following the usage instructions on or in the tampon package and alternating tampon use with pad use.

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Why do some people get TSS and others don't?

Since TSS is caused by toxins from strains of bacteria, scientists believe that people who are susceptible to TSS simply don't have sufficient antibodies in their blood to neutralize those toxins. Other people, who do have enough antibodies, are more resistant to TSS.

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Can someone get TSS more than once?

Yes. In fact, once someone has gotten TSS, he or she is more likely to get it again than someone who's never had it. So if you've ever had TSS, it's important for you to talk with your doctor before you use tampons.

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Are young people more susceptible to TSS?

TSS can affect any person at any age. However, menstrual related TSS does occur mostly among tampon users under age 30, especially those 15 to 19 years old. But there's no need to panic; even in this group, TSS is extremely rare!

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Where can I learn more about TSS?

TSS information in or on tampon packages is required by law. You can learn more about this by reading this information when you buy tampons. You can also ask your doctor for new information when you go in for a check-up.

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Please note that the contents of this section are for informational purposes only, and are not intended as medical advice or as a substitute to your doctor's advice. For medical care and advice, you should consult your doctor on a regular basis. If you have any problem which concerns you, consult your doctor immediately.

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