Toxic shock syndrome 

Introduction 

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can cause TSS 

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but life-threatening bacterial infection.

It occurs when the bacteria responsible - Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes, which normally live harmlessly on the skin - invade the body's bloodstream and release poisonous toxins.

These toxins cause a sudden high fever and a massive drop in blood pressure (shock), resulting in dizziness and confusion. You may also have vomiting and diarrhoea.

The toxins also damage tissue, including skin and organs, and can disturb many vital organ functions. Read more about the symptoms of TSS.

What to do

TSS is a medical emergency and you should see your GP as soon as possible if you have any of the symptoms of TSS.

If your GP suspects you have TSS, you'll be admitted to hospital immediately and treated in an intensive care unit. The goal is to fight the infection with antibiotics and support any functions of the body that have been affected.

Read more about the treatment of TSS.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can get TSS – men, women and children. For reasons that are still not understood, a significant proportion of cases occur in women who are on their period and using a tampon, particularly tampons that are designed to be 'super absorbent’.

TSS can also occur as a result of an infected boil, insect bite or wound, for example. Some cases are associated with skin damage from a burn or scald, which allows the bacteria to enter the body and release toxins.

Find out more about the causes of TSS.

The risk of TSS is greater in young people. It is thought that this is because many older people have developed immunity (resistance) to the toxins produced by the bacteria.

Outlook

If TSS is diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, there is a good chance of recovery.

If it is left untreated, the combination of shock and organ damage can result in death. 

Page last reviewed: 23/04/2012

Next review due: 23/04/2014

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Women's health 18-39

Healthy living advice for women aged 18-39 including real stories, fitness, diet, fertility and sexual health