Weekly Checkup: Toxic Shock Syndrome

Tampons aren’t the only perpetrators of toxic shock syndrome. In fact, one-third of patients diagnosed with TSS are men, said Dr. Cara Sue Schultz an associate university physician at Student Health Service.

TSS is a serious but extremely uncommon bacterial infection caused by a bacterium known as staphylococcus, according to WebMD.com. “In my 12 years as a physician, I have never once seen a case of TSS,” Schultz said.

Usually staphylococcus bacteria are harmless, but in rare instances when the toxins enter the bloodstream it can cause an immune reaction in bodies that can’t fight the toxins, according to the Web site. Organs such as the lungs, kidneys and liver can become rapidly affected.

Tampons are often associated with the risk of contracting TSS because they are similar to another intra-uterine device that was put on the market in the 1960s, but was quickly removed. While girls must be careful when using tampons, there is no reason to stay away, Schultz said.

Although the bacteria itself is relatively common, 20 to 40 percent of adults have the staphylococcus bacteria, it is uncommon that it will release the potentially harmful toxin, Schultz said.

Side effects of TSS include high fevers of 104 or above, extremely low blood pressure, abnormal consciousness, vomiting, body aches and abnormality in the blood. Hospital care is always required in order to recover, she said.

It is possible to get TSS again after already having it, but it is as rare as being struck by lightning twice, Schultz said. Having it once before doesn’t increase your chances of having it again.

TSS often requires emergency treatment with intravenous fluid replacement and antibiotics to kill the harmful bacteria. Most patients recover completely within one to two weeks if there are no major complications.

“Weekly check up” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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