Do You Recognise The Symptoms Of Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Photo: Megan Madden
Spare a few minutes today to read the story of 19-year-old Phoebee Bambury, who saved her own life by recognising the symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Now, if you're anything like us, the last time you gave Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) more than a fleeting thought was when you were at school and Sugar magazine had a double-page spread on it, which you probably ignored in favour of the interview with Paul Nicholls on the next page.

In short, you might struggle to recognise the symptoms of TSS in the way that Phoebee, who told her story to BBC Newsbeat, did.

After being struck down with a headache and vomiting, Phoebee initially thought she was suffering from a common flu-like illness but, being familiar with the symptoms of TSS – through her pharmacy degree and from her friend's mother, who had also suffered – she had the initiative to check her symptoms against those listed on the tampon box. She called non-emergency NHS number 111 and was told to get herself to A&E immediately.

Once there, she initially worsened before being successfully treated and returning to health.

Other high-profile cases include model Lauren Wasser, who lost her right leg and the toes of her left foot to the infection in 2012 – she later sued the tampon manufacturer. In some instances, TSS can be deadly.

According to the Toxic Shock Syndrome Information Service, TSS is caused by the common bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria normally hang out with no trouble on the skin and in the nose, armpit, groin or vagina of one-in-three people. In rare cases, certain strains of the bacteria can produce toxins, causing TSS.

So, what are the symptoms?

According to the NHS, symptoms can include a high temperature – they say 39C and above. If you don't have a thermometer, check out how to read a high temperature manually here.

As well as a high temperature, they say you might also experience "flu-like" symptoms (think headache, sore throat, cough and the like) as well as diarrhoea and nausea.

On top of that, you might also have a "widespread sunburn-like rash", the whites of the eyes, tongue and lips may turn bright red, dizziness and fainting may occur as well as confusion, drowsiness and breathing difficulties.

If you recognise this in yourself, they recommend removing your tampon straightaway (if you have one in) and calling 111.

Remember, TSS is incredibly rare. According to doctors on Patient, the syndrome peaked in the '90s with around 40 cases a year in the UK. Since then, it has declined "due to change in tampon manufacture" and "increased awareness".

TSS isn't limited to those wearing tampons, though (Phoebee said she didn't ever leave a tampon in longer than the recommended eight hours). Your risk of developing the illness may be increased by using female barrier contraception (such as a diaphragm), a wound or cut, childbirth or other infections like impetigo or a throat infection.

The NHS guidelines for preventing TSS aren't hugely surprising, but it's worth having a read here. Essentially, you should always use the tampon with the lowest absorbency possible – those of you with a light flow shouldn't be using super tampons. They recommend you wash your hands before and after inserting a tampon, change it regularly, only use one at a time and, if you must use overnight, insert right before bed and remove as soon as you wake.
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