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Toxic Shock Syndrome

A rare but serious condition caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal toxins

  • Most common between the ages of 15 and 20
  • More common in females
  • Using tampons may be a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

First recognized in the late 1970s, toxic shock syndrome is an uncommon but potentially fatal infection. The condition is caused by a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus and some streptococcal bacteria, which enter the bloodstream from a localized site of infection.

Toxic shock syndrome mainly affects young adults, and about half of all cases occur in menstruating women. The infection may be linked to the use of tampons, which can provide a site for bacterial growth in the vagina, particularly if a tampon is left in place longer than the recommended time.

The symptoms start suddenly and may include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, and severe muscular aches and pains. A widespread red, sunburn-like rash may appear, and confusion may occur. More serious complications can also develop, such as acute kidney failure.

Toxic shock syndrome requires immediate treatment in hospital with intravenous antibiotics. Treated promptly, 9 in 10 people recover fully.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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