Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

How you get it

Toxic Shock Syndrome (or TSS) is caused by a bacterium called Staphlococcus Aureus, which exists normally in the air. Sometimes strains of this bacterium give off a toxin (poison that gets into the body), usually through the bloodstream. The illness is so rare because most people develop resistance to the toxin and in these people there is no harmful effect.

Tampons do not cause TSS, however incorrect usage of tampons has been associated with an increased risk of TSS. Tampons, while containing very small amounts of bacteria normally present in the air, have not been shown to carry the bacteria that cause TSS.

What it is

TSS is a rare but serious illness that may cause death. It is caused by a toxin (a kind of biological poison) which is produced by a type of bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus).

These bacteria are found in the nose of about one-third of the population. They may also be found on the skin, and occasionally in the vagina, without causing harm.

The symptoms

Symptoms can appear very quickly and are similar to the flu. They include:

  • Feeling very ill, headache, muscular pains
  • A sudden high fever and chills (39°C or higher)
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea, or both
  • Dizziness, fainting, weakness or confusion
  • A rash that looks like you’ve got a nasty sunburn

Be on the lookout for the above symptoms, but remember that not all TSS cases are exactly alike, and not all of these symptoms are always present. If you have any of these symptoms during or soon after your period, remove your tampon and get to the doctors ASAP.

When you meet with your doctor, it’s very important to let him or her know that you’ve been using tampons. If you have ever had TSS, you should not use tampons until you have discussed it with your doctor. You may have developed resistance to the toxin and could get TSS again.

Reduce your chances of getting TSS

  • Only use one tampon at a time
  • Only use tampons when you are menstruating
  • Don’t force the tampon to fit inside the vagina
  • You may reduce your risk of TSS by using the lowest absorbency tampon necessary to suit your flow. Although TSS can occur with tampons of any absorbency, the risk of TSS increases with tampons of higher absorbency
  • Make sure your hands are clean when handling tampons
  • Use the tampon immediately after you unwrap it and don’t handle the tampon more than necessary, or place it on any surface
  • Remove the used tampon before inserting the next one
  • Don’t forget to remove the last tampon used at the end of your period
  • Change your tampon regularly (every 4 hours is a good guide, unless your flow is heavy) and never leave one in for more than 8 hours

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