Despite being recently sensationalized in the media, Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a very rare event. It is a life-threatening complication of certain bacterial infections, most commonly Staphylococcus Aureus (staph) and Group A Streptococcus (strep). It has been associated with the use of certain super absorbent tampons. Some symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include high fever, nausea & vomiting, a diffuse skin rash that resembles a sunburn, confusion and seizures.
Toxic shock syndrome can happen to anyone. While it is most commonly seen in women who are menstruating, men and children can be affected too. Risk factors for getting TSS are a recent surgery, a cut or burn on the skin, the use of super absorbent tampons and a recent viral infection. It is important that TSS be treated immediately as it can lead to kidney failure, shock and death. Treatment often involves hospitalization with supportive care and IV antibiotics.
It is important to remember that this is a very rare syndrome with a reported incidence of 3-4 cases per 100,000 tampon users each year. Historically it has been associated with super absorbent tampons from certain manufacturers. Most of those tampons were pulled from the market once their association with TSS was made.
Recently a cluster of cases has been reported in the state of Michigan. Five young women have been hospitalized since December 2015 due to TSS associated with tampon use. There are usually less than five reported cases in this area per year. Luckily all five women survived. Four of the women were noted to be using the same brand of tampon and four were also using super absorbent tampons.
Health officials stress that the prevention of TSS can be achieved with proper tampon usage. Women should use the lowest absorbency tampon that is effective and should not wear tampons for longer than eight hours. It is also not recommended to wear tampons overnight.